October 18, 2007 – I never write any blog posts about hotel management companies – simply because there are too many of them, and there isn’t much that differentiates one from another – I’m personally more excited by what happens on the franchisor side of the industry.
I live in Monmouth County, NJ, located on the Jersey Shore, which is a huge tourist attraction – obviously not in the same league as Disney World, or Universal Studios, or even San Diego, or San Francisco, but the Jersey Shore holds its own as a large tourist attraction. You’d think that this area would be jammed packed with hotels – well, until the last few years, there were really not as many hotels in this area as you would expect, but one company seems to be changing that though – and I’ve watched them grow over the past few years into a very strong company.
Hotels Unlimited, Inc, up until a few years ago owned a few hotels in Ocean County, NJ, then suddenly, they went on a buying binge – purchasing the Holiday Inn, Toms River, converting the Ramada Inn, East Windsor to a Holiday Inn, purchasing the long decrepit McIntosh Inn in West Long Branch completely renovating it from top to bottom and rebranding it as a Holiday Inn Express. Hotels Unlimited also owns the Ramada Inn, Toms River, the Days Inn, East Windsor, and the Holiday Inn, South Plainfield.
Something that has amazed me about Hotels Unlimited is their seemingly insatiable thirst to expand their hotel empire. It seems as though any hotel site available for purchase – undeveloped, developed yet underperforming, or able to be converted into a hotel in the Monmouth County area is purchased by Hotels Unlimited. Just today, I discovered that an old nursing home site on Rt 66 in Neptune was purchased by Hotels Unlimited with the intentions to convert it into a Holiday Inn Express – a super smart purchase because the Rt 66 area in Neptune is poised for a lot of growth in the next few years – Asbury Park is being redeveloped in the next town over, Chelsea Property Group is in the midst of developing one of their largest Chelsea Premium Outlets, called Jersey Shore Factory Outlets – due to open November 2008, and H Hovnanian (no relation to the home builder K Hovnanian) has plans to create high end retail, office and possibly a residential component on their land which is right off of Parkway Exit 100A. I’ve seen the for sale signs in front of the old nursing home for months now – and I just wish I had the capital to build a hotel there – it would have been perfect for an aloft or element.
A few months back Hotels Unlimited continued their buying spree with the purchase of the full-service Freehold Gardens Hotel, a former Sheraton Hotel, located at the intersection of 537 and Rt 33 in Freehold. The Freehold Gardens Hotel has pretty much fallen off the map a number of years now – probably because it was unflagged, and never advertised,but its location in Central Jersey is just too valuable to pass up, it was a jewel that needed a new management team to come in and bring the property back to its full potential. Hotels Unlimited is doing just that – it is in the process of being reflagged as a Radisson.
Hotels Unlimited also purchased the Holiday Inn, Tinton Falls, yet plans have not been announced as to what will occur with that property – reflagging, renovations, addition, etc.
Hotels Unlimited isn’t just in the market of purchasing existing hotels or buildings for conversions – they also have a number of hotels under construction, their first Hilton Garden Inn is currently being built in Lakewood, NJ, next year they are scheduled to begin construction of a Hampton Inn in Freehold on Route 9 South, and a Staybridge Suites in Washington, NJ is scheduled to open in 2009.
As I said briefly in the beginning of this post – normally I would not have much of an interest in a hotel management/development company, especially one which has multiple brands (Intercontinental, Carlson, Hilton), because I’m not sure how you are able to differentiate between different companies within different brands.. Maybe if I had some more experience, I would easily be able to rattle off why Hotels Unlimited is building two new Hilton branded hotels from the ground up, while the majority of their conversions and pre-existing hotels are mainly from Intercontinental. Or.. Why they are not building any Starwood brands. But the real reason that I’m interested in Hotels Unlimited is because they are a local company, and I’ve watched them grow from a small company with only a few hotels, to a company that is becoming a force in the Central Jersey market. There is nothing that excites me more than being able to build something big, piece by piece, and when the pieces you are building are hotels – that excites me even more.
I’m much more interested in building a hotel brand though – I want to be part of what goes into creating a brand – getting a manual after I signed a Franchise Agreement that tells me what furniture I have to buy, what color to paint the walls, and how to design the building does not excite me – I want to be a part of putting together the manual instead.
Unfortunately, I’ve never had an opportunity to meet anyone from the Tajfel family, which owns Hotels Unlimited, although numerous times I’ve attempted to reach out to Doran, to get his thoughts on how he has grown Hotels Unlimited – what goes into choosing what flag to fly for each location, what their eventual goal is, how they do their due diligence on a potential hotel site, things of that nature.
With that, I wish Hotels Unlimited luck – I’ll be watching.