Notes From The Front Desk

If, like me, you're an old-school kind of person who prefers getting his information by turning pages of a newspaper or magazine rather than flipping through computer screens, you may not have seen The Front Desk, the blog our editors maintain on the Lodging Hospitality website, www.LHonline.com. Within the last month, we've written about a wide range of industry issues.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I weighed in on several big transactions that occurred in the same week. Here's what I wrote:

“There was a time not long ago that most hotel industry transactions were measured in millions of dollars. Today, a deal hardly seems worthy of a press release unless it's a billion dollars or more. And while many recent lodging transactions have focused on individual properties or portfolios of hotels, the emphasis in recent weeks has shifted to the buying and selling of whole hotel chains.

“In fact, in the past week news broke of two major hotel chain transactions: the $8-billion purchase of Extended Stay Hotels by The Lightstone Group, a new entry into the hotel business; and today's (Apr. 24) announcement that Accor plans to sell its Red Roof chain for $1.32 billion to a group of investors that includes Citigroup, Westmont Hospitality Group and a number of Canadian pension fund managers.

“While these two chains were sold for different reasons — Accor never seemed to know what to do with the once-proud Red Roof chain, and Blackstone (owners of Extended Stay) may feel it's time to start cashing out of lodging — the transactions show both the continued frothiness of the hotel market and the possible specter of overheating on the horizon. It boggles my mind that two small-time, not very highly regarded chains could command nearly $10 billion combined.”

From time to time, we also comment on some of the industry events we attend. Here's Feature Editor Carlo Wolff's take on the recent U.S. Franchise Systems conference:

“Memo to hospitality communications specialists: Compact your presentations. I say this after attending a largely informative, occasionally inspirational conference of U.S. Franchise Systems in Atlanta in late March. The first USFS conference without founder Mike Leven, it spotlighted the relatively large Microtel franchise and its smaller, extended-stay sibling, Hawthorn Suites. Roy Flora, USFS CFO, kept things moving and spoke succinctly. Adding to the distinction: a talk by Matt Roloff, former president of Little People of America, showcasing USFS' commitment to access by all kinds of people, especially the disabled. Little People of America represents some 1.2 million Americans of stature shorter than 4 feet 10. In case you haven't heard, all Microtels and Hawthorn Suites will offer these folks small stepstool rigs, along with appropriate equipment, so they can reach things, secure themselves, turn on the TV and get into bed. It's more than symbolic, it's an investment (each stepstool rig will cost USFS a hair under $300).

“Trouble was, Flora and Roloff said essentially the same things during separate presentations for Microtel and Hawthorn Suites. So did several other USFS executives, though there was some brand-specific variation. I understand there are two constituencies, likely with little overlap, so Flora & Co. had to speak to separate audiences. I've seen similar situations at Choice and the former Cendant, which doesn't make them any less irritating. Redundant presentations may be an efficient way to present the same material, but wouldn't it be better to have one, chainwide presentation and then break off into separate, brand-specific workshops?”

I hope you take a look at The Front Desk and let me know what you think of our opinions. Go to www.LHonline.com and click on The Front Desk.

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