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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Why the Trend-Seeking Luxury Consumer Loves the Branded Residence Sector

 This article first appeared in Hospitality Insights in mid-October.

Aston Martin. Baccarat. Porsche. Versace. Aside from being ultra-luxury brands, what do these companies have in common? All have lent their names to branded residences.

Branded residences emerged as a real estate market segment about 20 years ago, when hotel brands started creating mixed-use developments. Adding a residential element to hospitality projects made it easier for developers to get financing and more immediate return on investment while simultaneously benefiting from a long-term revenue stream on the hotel side. 

For hotel companies, branded residences were a natural brand extension for luxury groups like Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, trading on a tradition of hospitality, service and high-end amenities. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy living in a place that shared concierges, housekeepers, celebrity chefs and spas with the most discerning hotel guest? Riyan Itani, head of Savills International Development Consultancy, put it simply: “The concept of branded residences, from its inception, has been based on the provision of services and facilities that one would typically find in a hotel.”

The synergies between high-end hotel brands and branded residential developments, then, are somewhat obvious. But what value does an automotive brand, or a jewelry brand, or a fashion brand bring to the dining room table?

The Porsche Design Tower in Miami

According to Savills, during the last ten years, the number of branded residences increased by 170 percent, adding more than 52,000 units across 370 projects. In the beginning, branded residences were almost exclusively the domain of luxury hospitality brands, but that is changing. as more and more non-hospitality luxury brands enter the fray. Part of the reason for the shift is that some markets have reached capacity in terms of luxury hospitality branded offerings, while in places more driven by trends, developers are looking for sexy points of product differentiation.

Palazzo Versace, Australia

While a few such non-hospitality brands were prescient early on (Palazzo Versace on Australia’s Gold Coast was actually quite revolutionary when it opened in 2000), most of the newer players have come on the scene during the last five years. The Porsche Design Tower opened in Miami in 2017.  Aston Martin will add more automotive cachet to the Miami residential scene in 2022, and Bentley will enter the mix there by 2026. Lamborghini is shifting into high gear in Dubai with an immense project (8,000 residential units) to be opened by 2024. Italian car design firm Pininfarina is growing its presence through branded residences in Brazil and Guatemala. High-end consumer goods brands like Baccarat, Roberto Cavalli and Armani are also players, although most of these branded developments are one-offs, mostly located in hot branded residential real estate markets like Dubai and Miami.

Cyrela by Pininfarina, Sao Paolo, Brazil 

The Appeal For Companies, Developers and the Consumer

There are three stakeholders in every branded residential scheme. There’s the brand, the developer and the consumer. In theory, the branded residences sector offers an opportunity for high-end products to expand their brand profile and diversify their business model, while giving developers a unique selling proposition and providing consumers with bragging rights. For non-hospitality brands to succeed, says Chris Graham, author of The Branded Residence Report, an understanding of local markets and developers, careful buyer targeting and brand alignment are all essential.  

Having branded residences allows the Bulgaris, Versaces, Armanis and Baccarats of this word to attach an experience to their products, according to luxury branding expert Piers Schmidt, while at the same time, says Graham, offering a big WOW factor that will result in extensive PR. 

“Brands can create a theater of dreams; a temple to the brand at which the consumer can come and worship,” said Schmidt. Theoretically, this can lead to a deeper relationship with the brand’s consumer. But that prospect comes at great risk to these brands, according to Barry Landsberg, a long-time veteran of the branded residence world. “The service culture is inherent in the DNA of hospitality brands. Non-hospitality brands do not bring the advantage, so that to be successful competitors in the high-end residential space, they will need to invest in the hospitality ingredients that have been a mainstay of the industry, or potentially risk tarnishing their brand equity. If they don’t get the service component right, that’s the biggest risk if they don’t deliver.”

For the developer, a non-hospitality luxury brand may offer more flexibility in terms of design and required levels of service. That’s because non-hospitality brand deals may not come laden with extensive royalty fees, license fees and service charges, along with strict requirements to ensure the development meets brand service standards, according to Landsberg. Furthermore, developers are always looking for an edge, and adding a seductive brand label to a building, particularly in saturated, status-savvy markets, can increase the allure and the price of the product. That said, Savills notes that while luxury hospitality brands add an average of a 31 percent price premium to branded residences, non-hospitality luxury brands bring in a price premium average of 25 percent.

So, it appears that some consumers are still willing to pay a premium for their non-hospitality branded residences. But the experts say there are caveats, especially given that there is not an automatic assurance of consistent quality service that is baked into hospitality brands.

For a non-hospitality branded residence to sell, a consumer must really buy into the brand at hand. But is that enough? After all, while there are natural synergies between luxury hotels and luxury real estate, one may wonder what value crystal or car brand brings to a potential homeowner. How do you translate the brand essence of a dress or a piece of jewelry or an automobile into where you live? After all, “new car smell” doesn’t really translate in a home environment. But automotive brands, for example, in trying to bring the brand aesthetic home, are doing everything from adding automotive elevator systems which enables residents to store their vehicles in their very own “sky garage” (a multi-car glass display case situated right next to their living room), to sweetening the purchase of a multi-million dollar condo with a “throw-in” of a car, to adding design elements borrowed from the car itself. There may be more relevant synergies in terms of design with fashion houses, particularly those that have homeware or interior design in their portfolios, but in all cases, the service factor is still an unknown. 

A "sky garage" in the Porsche Design Tower

What the Future of Non-Hospitality Luxury Residences May Look Like

What kind of competition will these schemes offer vis-a-vis hospitality projects?

For a while, it looked like non-hospitality branded residences were merely the new shiny object. But, according to Landsberg, certain projects have proven that "if a brand has the ability to draw from a dedicated affinity group; if it works with a developer who understands the local market and the branded residence space; and it brings on designers to incorporate elements of product integration," he said, "in other words, there is a managed process through architecture, design and service, it can be a success, especially in places like Miami and Dubai, which are dynamic, design-forward markets, and developers there understand their markets well and are looking for ways to differentiate in those crowded markets." 

In fact, the success of the schemes may be more dependent on market than on brand, according to Graham. In his Branded Residence Report, he writes, “The non-hotelier segment is typically more focused in emerging markets than the branded residence sector as a whole. Demand for high-end properties has risen quickly in emerging markets in parallel to wealth creation. The nouveau riche buyer may be more attracted to unique products and these lifestyle orientated brands resonate well amongst brand-friendly and knowledgeable purchasers.” Such  buyers, he added, are quite prevalent in places like Dubai, Miami and Brazil, where “bling and design appeals.” 

Because of their success in those places, Graham says “the viability question of non-hospitality brands has been put to bed. Look at brands like Versace and Armani, which all decided to license their names and design as a brand extension and way to get additional revenues. They took a leap of faith that the product would extend into residential and people would pay a premium and it came to be. Subsequently, the sector has taken on a life of its own.” 

Piers Schmidt, however, is not quite as bullish on the sector. “I am pretty negative about it, given that many schemes have not worked and those that have haven’t grown beyond one or two brand residence properties," he said.

Unlike hotel brands, which seem to be able to plant their flags anywhere, non-hospitality brands will be limited, to those specific markets that may be more prone to be susceptible to the label factor of a brand. In that respect, non-hospitality luxury branded residences may end up being more of a one-off novelty than a replicable international model.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Graduate Hotels Studies Opportunities in the United Kingdom

Graduate Hotels is a brand that is quickly becoming quite familiar in the United States, at least in university towns. Created and owned by AJ Capital Partners (the AJ is short for Adventurous Journeys), Graduate curates its American hotels to match the atmosphere of the college campus by which it exists. 

Every property celebrates the heady optimism of the good old school days and cultivates the spirit of each community through cultural and athletic nods to a university’s heritage and history. 

Since its beginnings in 2014, Graduate has opened 30 hotels across the country, in such notable college towns as Columbus, Ohio (Ohio State University); Ann Arbor, Michigan (the University of Michigan); Berkeley, California (University of California, Berkeley) and Providence, Rhode Island (Brown University). 

Graduate Hotel Columbus

According to Phillip Allen, Chief Development Officer, International Markets for AJ Capital Partners, Graduate was developed because the company discovered a wide-open niche in the market. It appeared that many sizable college towns lacked lodging options in terms of high-quality, boutique hotels. “Supply had traditionally been constrained, and focused on lower quality products,” said Allen.

University towns were particularly attractive because typically in the United States, new businesses and research facilities locate themselves near major campuses in order to take advantage of the academic talent pool Plus, there are those alumni who are always coming back for special events. 

Of course, the American approach to university life (think football, tailgating and fraternities and sororities) is very different from most college experiences outside of the United States. So can a brand based, in part, on all-American rah-rah nostalgia, translate to other countries?

Graduate Hotel Oxford

In 2018, Allen, not yet working for AJ Capital Partners, nonetheless approached Graduate executives with the idea of expanding the brand into Europe. He discovered the company had already been considering the idea, and so he was brought on to manage the international development side of the business. 

The whole Graduate concept design is based on fabulous university communities and their history. That’s why England’s Oxford and Cambridge universities were the logical places to start looking. 

“We are certainly aware of the fact that U.K. campuses are not sports-focused like in America, so we take pains to stress other college-related themes at these properties,” he said. 

Having chosen the site of their freshmen efforts, Davis started looking around for existing hotels that could be transitioned into Graduate’s zeitgeist. 

The first acquisition was in Cambridge. Set on the River Cam, the property has been designed with nods to the university’s architecture and to on-campus discoveries like the DNA double helix. 

In 2019, AJ Capital Partners purchased its property in Oxford, now called The Randolph Hotel by Graduate Hotels. The design also parallels the architecture found on campus, and adds in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland touches (author Lewis Carroll lived in Oxford and matriculated at Christ Church College). After a few years of renovations, both hotels opened under the Graduate banner this summer. 

Once the Cambridge and Oxford properties were acquired, Allen started looking north to Scotland. There, he discovered McDonald Hotels & Resorts was looking to sell some of its assets. But the locations didn’t necessarily match the Graduate modus operandi. 

“We went to the U.K. to expand Graduate and stumbled into a new concept, a golf concept,” said Allen. “It was a bit of dumb luck and a bit of strategy.”

Rusacks St Andrews, overlooking the 18th hole of the city’s famed Old Course, was just “too perfect as a golf hotel. So we kept it as a golf hotel, and then started planning to expand a golf concept (since dubbed Marine & Lawn) in the United Kingdom right away.” 

The golf-focused Marine & Lawn brand now has outposts in Troon and North Berwick in Scotland. 

As for what’s next after this swirl of activity, Allen said: “Throughout the last year, we pushed pause on new international acquisitions as we were launching a totally new brand and the Graduate in a new country and acquired five hotels in a relatively short period of time. 

“We had a lot on the plate in the midst of the pandemic. So, we want to get everything up and running and launch both brands in the most impactful way. And then, by fall, we’ll be back in the investment market.”   

For Graduate Hotels, that will largely mean focusing on UK markets that are home to Russell Group universities. For Marine & Lawn, that means looking around the British Isles for existing golf hotels that are operating below par under current ownership.

 This article originally appeared in Hospitality Insights.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Biggest Hotel Brand You Never Heard Of: Israel's Brown Hotels Expands into Europe

Brown Hotels sometimes calls itself the biggest hotel brand you’ve never heard of. The Israel-based hospitality company, founded in 2010, is a power player in its home country, and is now making moves in southern Europe. 

The company’s expansion strategy is based on brand growth through opportunity. In the micro sense, that means looking around for deals in terms of individual properties for sale. But on the macro scale, it’s a matter of considering destinations that may be suffering from hospitality real estate hits due to Covid-19 or other economic and political factors.

Brown Hotels is undergoing a major expansion 
in Greece

Brown Hotels evolved out of the desire to create dwellings that not only showed visitors the real culture and creativity of the city's youthful population, but also to expand the nightlife and neighborhood hangouts for locals. During its decade in existence, the Tel Aviv-based company has opened more than 16 hotels around Israel. The properties operate under five different brands, each encapsulated by a female icon. For example, Brown Beach Houses, sporting a 1950s vibe, according to founder Leon Avigad, pays homage to Brigitte Bardot while Lighthouse, the modern “Work Hard, Play Hard” brand, uses Paris Hilton as inspiration.  

In 2016, the company opened its first property outside of Israel, the Brown Beach House in Trogir, Croatia. Avigad said the destination made sense, given its proximity to headquarters and its Mediterranean climate. The success of that resort spurred further investigation of expansion in southern Europe.

Brown Beach House, Croatia

“For us, it was very clear that when expanding into Europe, it was more natural to start in places that look and feel like Tel Aviv,” according to Avigad. 

After Croatia, he started looking into Greece, deciding to earmark the country as its next destination for heavy investment. Brown purchased its first two hotels there in 2018. 

“Greece seems even more dynamic than Croatia, and I think Athens is poised to be the next Berlin,” said Avigad. “Plus, Greece has much more to offer than just islands. The mainland is so rich with culture and experiences.” 

Seeing an underdeveloped market on the mainland, and an economy ripe for investment, Brown decided to go all in.

“When we started looking, the real estate market was not very strong, but at the same time, the destination was strong and demand steady,” noted Avigad. At the same time, he said “the Greek government was becoming very receptive to new businesses and new investment.” 

While the government was not offering financial incentives per se, “they were more open to foreigners and trying to make it easier for everyone to invest.” 

Brown Acropol Athens

All of the legwork in Greece started paying dividends in July, when Brown Hotels announced the opening of its first three properties in Athens. The Brown Acropol, DAVE Red Athens and Villa Brown Ermou all represent individual design concepts, and are the first of seven new properties by Brown Hotels set to open in Greece by the end of 2021. Brown Hotels will subsequently expand to Thessaloniki, Cyprus and Corfu, and then by 2023, will have a total of 50 properties in Greece. 

Villa Brown Ermou, Athens

Next up is Hungary. The company has identified a quartet of hotels in Budapest for redevelopment. The first of them is slated to open in 2023. The company is also scouting  “happening cities” like Berlin, that fit with the company’s hip urban brands, and looking in Italy for both resort and city hotel opportunities. However, Avigad says the brand will not enter any new market unless it can develop at least four properties concurrently, with a minimum total of 400 rooms. 

In the meantime, Brown Hotels continues to expand in its home country. Six hotels, two in Jerusalem and four in Tel Aviv, are opening in Israel this year, and another three are slated to open in Tel Aviv by the end of 2022.

The original version of this article appeared in Hospitality Insights.

Friday, September 3, 2021

During 2020, glamping went from trendy to mainstream. I have spoken about the topic at several travel industry conferences, and recently wrote this trends piece for the 2021 Wellness Hospitality Real Estate Report.

Glamping is defined as an elevated form of camping that allows travelers to stay in unique accommodations (tents, treehouses, tiny houses) with services and amenities more often experienced at four or five-star resorts. Certainly, the pandemic helped glamping leap from niche to more mainstream. Glamping-style resorts have witnessed explosive demand due to their ability to provide socially distant, stress-free and secluded sojourns with immersion in nature.

Glamping in the bush in Australia

During the past year, numerous scientific studies have highlighted the inherent mental and physical benefits of being outside. At the same time, the use of outdoor wellbeing experiences to improve the quality of life has been increasing exponentially. In a forecast released prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the global glamping market size, valued at $1.8 billion, was predicted to expand to $5.41 billion by 2028. Grandview Research’s Glamping: Market Size & Trends also forecasts an annual growth rate of 14.1 percent from 2021 through 2028. 

Glamping in Istra, Croatia

Given the boost the sector has received during the Covid era (one of the few hospitality sectors that actually benefited from the pandemic), those forecasts may now be on the low side. In fact, glamping, a high-end form of camping that appeals to a broad range of travelers looking to spend more time outdoors, appears to be the right product for the right time. While the type of safari tents often used by glamping developments were once solely associated with trips into the wilds of Africa, today, we see glamping resorts popping up throughout Europe and North America.

Some U.S. resorts, like Eastwinds in New York's
Catskills, are adding glamping units to their offerings.

Europe has the biggest current revenue share (34.9 percent) of the global glamping market, but the North American glamping market is predicted to expand at a faster annual growth rate (16.7 percent) through 2028. Non-Covid factors fueling the growth of the sector included easier access to exotic, unconventional landscapes; the ability of social media to promote small, remote glamping sites at a low cost; and greater interest in outdoor adventure among luxury travelers. 

The glamping proposition is gaining traction among the investment community thanks to high EBITDA margins and low upfront development costs. Hospitality operators who invest in tented projects can expect to generate a quicker return than their bricks and mortar counterparts. As a result of such attractive numbers, and the growth of interest in glamping among travelers writ large, industry players have been able to secure multi-million dollar deals from the investment community.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Evolution of Wellness Real Estate Post-COVID

The Covid-19 era ushered in with it the realization that home is where the health is. Post-pandemic, interest in buying healthy homes and real estate in wellness communities is likely to grow as more people take greater consideration of how their living environments impact their physical, mental and emotional well-being. As a result, low-density communities designed to cater to wellness needs will become increasingly desirable.

However, given the novelty of this interest, current development statistics don’t reflect reaction to this potential demand. An American LIVES survey of U.S. households with incomes over $75,000 found more than 25 percent of respondents would want to live in a wellness community, while 38 percent were at least inclined to visit a wellness community and consider living there at least part time. 

Access to nature is an important
feature of wellness real estate communities

Currently, most of the traction in the wellness residential community space is coming out of the upper-upscale end of the market and from the active agers (55+) sector. The latter provides a potential model for age-agnostic wellness communities. In the United States, the active adult (55+) community market size was valued at $523.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of around 4.3 percent from 2020 to 2027. 

Newly or soon-to-be retired generations have different perspectives on aging than previous generations. Instead of looking for retirement homes that focus on health care, many are increasingly attracted to active adult (55+) communities, where the focus is on a wellness lifestyle. Those communities are filled with single-family homes or condominiums designed with wellbeing features. Often located near a nature asset, these developments place a strong emphasis on community spaces, programming and activities. 

Carillon Miami Wellness Resort

The main movement in the development of under-55 wellness communities sits at the highest end of the market. Right now, most high-end wellness communities are located in mixed-use residential/resort complexes, such as Carillon Miami Wellness Resort and Canyon Ranch Residences. In this arena, there’s a great deal of overlap with the second home sector. In terms of dedicated wellness communities largely serving full-time residents, right now, there are but a few. However, given the likelihood of heightened concern about wellbeing post-pandemic, the concept of dedicated wellness residential communities is a real estate trend whose time has come. 

*This post is adapted from a Wellness Hospitality Real Estate report I wrote for RLA Global.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

European Luxury Investors Seek Out Open Spaces and Affordable Places

 My most recent piece, which appeared in Hospitality Insights in June. Given that the publication is based in England, British English is used throughout. 

The pandemic may have slowed investment in the European luxury hospitality sector for a spell, but most experts say the market is coming back quickly, albeit in areas with a few key set of characteristics.

By following the money, it’s evident that luxury investors have been showing interest in places that meet the new Covid-era demand for wide-open spaces in natural settings. On the other hand, they are also looking at risk-proofing investments by opting for areas that can have strong appeal to the intra-European luxury market. Right now, leisure destinations that typically attract the long-haul high-end crowd are not so attractive, nor are cities that receive a large share of their hotel nights from convention-goers. 

One&Only's property in Montenegro

Another factor that is driving this push toward investment in high-end leisure actually precedes the pandemic: With the spectre of overtourism hovering, countries including The Netherlands, Spain and Greece had already started shifting focus away from the mass market to “high-quality, high-spend” tourism. “We are moving from a model of ‘the more tourists, the better’ to one of higher expenditures, more nights and premium tourists,” Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, recently told the Financial Times.

Post-Covid, it may be easier for EU member countries to move further in this direction, spurred by resources from the organization’s massive €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund. Several countries have announced plans to use the money to modernise tourism infrastructure and otherwise improve destinations in ways that will attract high-end travelers. 

That demand for this market segment is growing is partly confirmed by what is happening in Accor’s development pipeline. According to Davinia Cisier, Accor’s Director Development Luxury Europe, “Over the last five years, Accor has transformed its brand portfolio, moving from 16 brands to 40 with a concentration on high-value segments.” Forty percent of Accor’s current global development pipeline is made up of projects in the ultra-luxury, luxury, premium and collection brands.  

high-end tourism hotspots

The Money Trail

Taking a look at a map of continental Europe, analysts are seeing some notable trends. According to Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate brokerage firm, one-third of transaction volume in 2020 were outside urban locations. However, when focusing solely on deals committed after the virus outbreak, the share of non-urban locations increased to more than 41 percent. According to the company’s analysts, this implies an investor expectation of better long-term prospects for non-urban hotels driven by leisure demand.

The map also shows investment taking place in the mountains. “Nature tourism has boomed during the past year, and more Europeans are getting into the habit of seeing traditional ski areas like Courchevel and Zermatt as four-season destinations,” according to Alex Sogno, the CEO of Global Assets Solutions. Employing ski areas as year-round destinations is likely to become a long-term shift in Europe, the prospects of which have great appeal to investors and developers alike.

Zermatt, Switzerland is one of the European mountain regions
of interest to luxury hospitality developers

Accor’s Cisier also sees growth in mountain destinations, along with traditional resort areas, including Baden-Baden and Ticino. Additionally, she notes that the Balkans region is a prime target for luxury projects, due to factors like, relatively, inexpensive development costs, increased airlift and diverse natural assets. 

Greece is leading the way. Notable recent transactions agreed to after the start of the pandemic, according to Cushman & Wakefield, include a resort portfolio comprising 1,094-rooms across five seafront hotels on Crete and the 990-room Porto Carras resort on the Halkidiki central peninsula.

Also being further developed is Costa Navarino, located in Messinia in the southwest Peloponnese.  Already home to two five-star deluxe hotels, the developers are looking to add a high-end hotel, villas and a new golf course. And One&Only is bullish on the Balkans, opening its Kéa Island property in Greece this year and another resort on the Athenian Riviera next year. 

The Kerzner International company also opened an outpost in Montenegro in 2021. In recent years, Montenegro has benefited from its Adriatic coastline and the UNESCO-listed Bay of Kotor; an emphasis on facilitating investments and offering significant tax exemptions to overseas investors; and a focus on attracting high-end tourism and the yachting community. 

Over to Iberia

Portugal shares many of the investment advantages of the Balkans, including cheap land, transportation access, diverse natural assets and mild weather. In recent years, according to Nuno Miguel Alves, director of investment at Turismo de Portugal, the bulk of the luxury development in that country had been taking place near Lisbon, thanks in large part to the significant upswing in both American and Brazilian luxury travelers since 2016. But during the past year, Alves notes, luxury developers have been eyeing rural areas and coastal areas near Porto, three hours north of Lisbon, and Comporta, located about one hour south of the city. As a tourism destination, Portugal is also looking to broaden the market in Algarve, relying less on the mass market and more on the affluent. This strategy will help attract more visitors to the resort destination during the off-season.
“Our advantage to investors is that Portugal, while in the EU, is more affordable than other countries in Europe. Plus, there has been a growth in overseas airlift (albeit halted by the pandemic) to Lisbon and Porto. In the long term, there is a lot of potential to grow,” he said. 

“Even during this trying time, the desire to invest in luxury hospitality in Portugal didn’t go away. And in the last six months, investors have been willing to take action.” That said, so far, according to Alves, most of the new investments have been distressed assets, and, no surprise, nature resort developments.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Springing into Wellness


Apologies for being relatively silent on this blog recently, but May and June have been abuzz with activity.  I am currently developing a Wellness University curriculum for travel advisors, and penning a 2021 Wellness Hospitality Real Estate Report. Stay tuned for more.

In between, it's back on Zoom. I recently shared my thoughts on growing and promoting wellness tourism during the Eco Hotel Restart Summit.

Here's the link. My main sections are 11-22 minutes and 52-56 minutes into the video. There's also a pithy wrap-up 1 hour in. Forgive the slight time delay and the technical difficulties. Enjoy.