The bottom line is always a top priority for owners but never more so than in the months following the outbreak of the coronavirus as occupancy has declined dramatically. As such, finding a third-party operator like Expotel Hospitality, which takes a hands-on approach to management and maximizing profitability could be considered a key to success for owners.
Mike Nixon, chief development officer, president, Metairie, LA-based Expotel Hospitality, acknowledged the current challenges operators are facing while touting the company’s flexibility and focus compared with some of the larger management companies.
“To me the companies that are doing well are the ones that are staying inside of their focus. Our focus is super high-level management of both top-line and operating expenses. I don’t think you get that from companies that are bigger. Anyone that’s got a portfolio of 100 hotels or more, I just don’t think owners are getting the attention really that they deserve in all cases,” he noted.
The company’s portfolio includes nearly 20 select-service and full-service, primarily branded properties ranging from Microtel to Renaissance. According to Nixon, the company also has a property in development in Alabama, which will be part of The Tribute Portfolio, one of Marriott International’s soft brands.
He noted that despite the ongoing pandemic a handful of the company’s properties have done well, particularly citing the company’s Seahaven Beach Resort Hotel in Panama City, FL, which has had roughly 80 percent occupancy for the last 6 weeks.
“As soon as they opened the beaches in Florida they started filling up almost right away. So that’s been a good positive sign,” said Nixon. He noted a number of other properties have gotten a boost from government contract business as well.
Nevertheless, Nixon later noted that just being located in a drive-to destination doesn’t necessarily ensure success pointing out “you have to some sort of local attraction that makes people want to stay with you. If you’re just on the way to somewhere I think you’re going to suffer a little bit longer than everybody else.”
Nixon—who joined the company in February of 2019—also touted the company’s leadership, and specifically the group’s deep hotel experience, as another differentiator. In addition to Nixon, the leadership team incudes Chairman George Newton III; Christopher Schott, CFO; and Brett Chittenden, executive vp, operations.
“The partners in the business all came up in the business. We’re not made up of real estate guys who decided hotels were a good return on investment. We’re not made up of bankers that decided hotels offered a great opportunity for investment. We’re made up of hotel guys. Everybody that works at Expotel at the executive level has come up through the ranks of the hotels,” he said.
Nixon did acknowledge that operating hotels will likely be a little different going forward in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. “I think your experience with the hotel won’t change much because you have very little interaction with staff members anyway. What I think is going to change is how we reset operating expenses going forward. I think you’re going to see less staff in the hotel until we see the numbers on the occupancy side getting back up to where they were pre-COVID. I just think we’re going to see leaner operations wherever we go,” he said.
Nixon concluded by reinforcing the importance for owners of holding their management company accountable. “My main thing is for owners to look at their P&Ls and to look at their management and try to reflect on whether they’re missing in action or whether or not they’re paying attention to what needs to be done at their hotels. Now is not the time to be passive about demanding returns from a management company,” he said.