NYU: Brand CEOs Define Value


Value is the buzzword around the general sessions and meeting rooms during day two of the 32nd NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, particularly among brand executives. CEOs from Wyndham Hotel Group, Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide outlined their strategies Tuesday for maximizing value for their franchisees and shareholders. For some, that means divesting company-owned assets and redeploying the money toward overseas development; for others it means capital expenditures; and for others it means attracting a new and diverse business mix.

And following a period best characterized by slow development activity, brand leaders said growth—particularly outside of the United States—is a key value driver.

Following Monday’s news that Wyndham Worldwide acquired the midmarket select-service Tryp hotel brand from Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Hotel Group president and CEO Eric Danziger said the move was inline with Wyndham’s strategies coming out of the recession.

“In our business, the fundamental strategy ought to be to do what you do well,” he said. “We have two focuses. One is to execute our business plan; the other is growth. The best way to grow is globally.”

The Tryp acquisition includes 91 hotels in Europe and South America.

“International growth is a priority for us,” said Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide. “There will be fits and starts, but the opportunity for all of us is gargantuan. We’re focusing on it; we’ve been out in the international arena longer than anyone else.”

However, growth means different things for different brands. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has been executing an asset-light strategy, but according to Simon Turner, president of global development for Starwood, that plan isn’t entirely cut and dried.

“Our overriding objective is to figure out what’s most important to our owners and guests in every decision we make,” he said. The brand is now in the process of examining its company-owned assets that remain in its portfolio following the disposition of several high-profile properties.

“We’re asking, ‘How do we maximize shareholder value?’ It could be doing a rooms renovation, it could be expanding a ballroom, it could be lowering our flag.”

But going completely asset-free isn’t in the cards for Starwood, at least right now.

“A year from now, we fundamentally believe real estate values will be higher,” Turner said. “Unless there’s a real urgent reason to get liquid in the near term, which there is not for us, let’s work through the portfolio.”

Nassetta said Hilton is not selling assets now, nor is it buying. Instead, the goal is to increase cash flow and boost efficiencies.

“The No. 1 lesson to be learned is to have less debt and more cash flow, right?” Nassetta said. “We had an organizational structure that was bloated and highly ineffective. We’ve made organizational structure changes.”

For Choice Hotels International, value is more about a state of mind.

“The challenge for us coming into an upturn, is what is our story?” said Choice CEO Steve Joyce. “The value sentiment hammered into customers will be enormous. That plays to our strength. That value equation stays in place for the next several years at least, and that’s our opportunity to build share.”

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