Fairmont's New Hire Pledges Brand Growth

Travel agents may soon have more Fairmont inventory to sell, thanks to Matthew Sparks. Fairmont Raffles Hotels International recently tapped Sparks to head up development in the Americas, and his primary focus will be growing the brand's portfolio. "Growth is a key priority for Fairmont in 2007 and beyond," Sparks says, only days after assuming his new post. "With significant development resources in place and owners that support our growth strategy, we have an aggressive goal to expand." Expansion will be attained through new management contracts, new property openings, joint ventures and residential projects, says Sparks.

One of the brand's landmark properties

Roughly a year has passed since Colony Capital, a group that manages the Raffles and Swissotel brands, and Kingdom Hotels International acquired Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts at an approximate all-in deal worth $5.5 billion. At the time, the plan was to combine the Fairmont and Raffles brands into a unified global luxury hotel entity. A year later, and with a new senior vice president of development on board, the unified Fairmont Raffles Hotels International is bent on expansion and increased penetration of both its luxury brands.

The unification of Fairmont and Raffles gives the company a sizeable global footprint, which Sparks promises to leverage as a means toward global expansion. "We are looking to expand in many parts of the world," he anticipates. "Markets like the United States, Europe and Asia hold vast potential."

Sparks' focus, meanwhile, is on the Americas. "First and foremost on my agenda will be diversifying the portfolio through new growth opportunities in markets where we currently have limited or no presence," Sparks says, adding that the Raffles brand (a historically European brand) would be grown in select urban and resort markets in the Americas.

Though expansion through ownership remains a play for Fairmont, it largely has eschewed ownership in favor of management. "While ownership will always be an option to stimulate expansion, our key focus is on growing the company through hotel management," Sparks shares. Last year the company sold a number of assets while continuing to hold onto long-term management contracts.

That doesn't mean the company won't be spending money. "We have made a significant investment to update our portfolio over the last decade," says Sparks. Fairmont will continue to reinvest and update its existing properties, particularly its portfolio of iconic hotels such as The Savoy in London and Manhattan's famed Plaza Hotel, the latter which closed in 2005 and underwent $350 million in renovations. That property will now be mixed-use once it reopens midway through this year; agents can now book its 282 luxury suites.

Fairmont's planned expansion behooves more agents to enroll in Fairmont Famous, its travel agent program, which educates and rewards agents. Growing the Fairmont brand could boost commissions for agents with enough knowledge to sell the product. Visit www.fairmont.com.