Rebranding Distressed Hotels Takes More Than Swapping Out Signage

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PLAINFIELD, IL, NOVEMBER 30, 2021 — Stay-in-place orders, travel restrictions, and cancellations intended to control the spread of COVID-19 caused a severe drop in hotel occupancy and revenue. Even the best marketing has not prevented the most enticing hotels from becoming victims of the pandemic. Famed names like the Renaissance Grand & Suites Hotel in St. Louis, the iconic Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, Washington, D.C.’s century-old Marriott Wardman Park, and The Blakely New York have all fallen into bankruptcy. More hotel bankruptcies may be on the horizon as lenders lose patience with defaulting property owners.
 
Against this less than optimistic backdrop, however, a recovery is ramping up. Just as they did following the Great Recession, opportunistic investors willing to look beyond the current crisis are sweeping in to purchase distressed hotel properties, REITs and trusts. Confident in hospitality’s recovery they are actively seeking distressed assets in this space, often acting as both investors and managers. Several closed hotels are now set to reopen anew, rebranded, as a result.

Why Rebrand?
Rebranding plays an oversized role in investment strategies. Changing brands or “flags” can breathe new life into a distressed hotel that has developed a poor reputation. It can also help attract new customer types.
 
At minimum, rebranding requires a makeover to replace signature design elements that are synonymous with the previous flag. Or in other cases, a total renovation of the property is needed to meet the new flag’s current branding standards, including carpeting, tub-to-shower conversions, wallcoverings, furniture, smart technology and more. Investors should be aware that major renovations often trigger new building code requirements, as well as life safety and ADA updates, that add to costs.
 
PIP Top Shape
More times than not, rebranding a distressed hotel is a complex process requiring meticulous, strategic planning laid out in the Property Improvement Plan (PIP) written by the new brand’s franchisors. Additionally, basic maintenance may have been deferred in a long closed hotel. This, too, can have an impact on the scope of the renovation of a distressed hotel.

To provide some guidance, I’ve compiled a few tips on how to go about rebranding successfully.
 

Once the investor has settled on the scope of the PIP with the franchisor, they will need to select a team of contracting professionals who specialize in hospitality renovations. Without extensive experience in the hotel industry, the contractor will lack the needed skill set for this highly detailed work.
 
Checking Out
Like other stages in purchasing a distressed hotel, PIPs are negotiable in both their scope and completion timeframe. New owners should negotiate as much as they can upfront before signing off on a PIP agreement, and before sharing the PIP with other potential investors. Keep in mind that it is the end-goal of the franchisor to not only make the best deal, but to maintain the highest brand standards and the best appearance for the hotel. The key is to find a balanced cost solution that meets brand requirements and the investor’s long-term financial goals.