In a nod to the increasing presence of independent boutique hotels throughout hospitality, Waterford Hotel Group has been leveraging its long history of effectively operating branded properties to ramp up its independent portfolio.
Meanwhile, the Waterford, CT-based company continues to grow that branded portfolio as well having recently announced the addition of five hotels, three of which are branded properties, including its first hotel in New York City. The inclusion of all five hotels—two of which are under construction and slated to open next year—will bring the company’s portfolio to 22 properties with more than 3,000 rooms.
On the independent front, on June 1 Waterford took over operations for the 122-suite New Haven Village Suites in New Haven, CT, which is owned by the Hospitality Division of NHR Properties. Also under development is the 68-room New Bedford Harbor Hotel in New Bedford, MA, which will be managed by Waterford Group on behalf of the Boston-based Columbus Group.
Rob Winchester, President and COO of Waterford Hotel Group, talked about the company’s evolution. “The independent piece is something that we’ve been doing for a number of years so it’s nice to get more of them. The good thing for independent owners that hire us is that we come with a process to operate the hotel, such as managing the bottom line and SOPs. All the things that a brand operator is familiar with and we bring that discipline to an independent hotel,” he said.
Winchester elaborated on some of the other benefits as well. “For our team it’s a creative component that they like; it’s the fun portfolio. Everybody likes the freedom of not having to adhere to certain structures and disciplines that the brand forces,” he said. As an example, “We can play in the OTAs how we like,” he said, adding “the success of these properties is really how we handle the ecommerce side and revenue management for them.”
Other independent properties the company currently operates include the Andover Inn in Andover, MA; Gettysburg Hotel in Gettysburg, PA; and The Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst, MA.
Winchester commented specifically on the New Haven Village Suites, which was previously a first generation Residence Inn by Marriott and represents the only extended-stay property in the New Haven market. “We know the Connecticut market and we know extended stay so that’s a nice benefit that we bring to that property,” he said, adding there would be an opportunity for cross-selling opportunities with the company’s other Connecticut properties.
The New Bedford Harbor Hotel is being repurposed from an office building and will include a restaurant and banquet space. The upscale boutique hotel will be part of The Ascend Collection from Choice Hotels and is expected to open in the Spring of 2018. Winchester emphasized the restaurant component. “When you enter the lobby it’s really going to be looking at the food & beverage area…We’re trying to get creative in how we operate that space and have it be unique,” he said.
On July 1, the company assumed management of the 133-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott New York Brooklyn, which is owned by an affiliate of Troutbrook Company. Winchester noted Waterford is in the process of “getting its arms around” the property, which he added “has many of the same attributes as Manhattan hotels in terms of high occupancy and challenging rates.”
On May 1, Waterford assumed management of the 125-room Fairfield Inn & Suites Cape Cod in Hyannis, MA, which Winchester described as a “very seasonal market.” The property—which is in the heart of Cape Cod’s shopping, dining and attractions—opened in 2016 and is owned by an affiliate of The Simon Konover Company.
Winchester noted this opportunity stemmed from an existing relationship with the ownership group as Waterford manages another property for them. “They like our team and our values,” he commented. Winchester added that the company took over the property right before the peak summer season, noting the hotel “kind of came right in really seamlessly into our group.”
Finally, the company has been selected to manage the 125-room Hyatt Place located near the T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, RI. The hotel—which will be connected to the terminal through the skywalk—is expected to open in the spring or summer of 2018 and is owned and developed by the D’Ambra family of Warwick, RI.
According to Winchester, the company is already intimately familiar with the Warwick market as it manages a Courtyard by Marriott there. He added it represents the company’s first Hyatt Place, which he described as “exciting.”
Winchester touted the fact that most of the company’s portfolio has undergone renovations during the last couple of years. In fact, there are a couple more renovations planned, including one for the Homewood Suites in Ithaca, NY. He further noted that many of the properties have been refinanced as well. “They’re nice and tidied up as a real estate investment asset. From that perspective, we’re just on a great strong platform that’s not overleveraged,” said Winchester.
While the company has added a number of properties recently, Winchester acknowledged it has also divested some as well. “Over the past few years we’ve sold some properties, which have been really beneficial to our owners. I think that’s part of the real estate business, at different times in the cycle it makes sense to exit,” he said, further noting, “if we retain management that’s great if we don’t we don’t.”
Winchester pointed out the company maintains a “three-pronged strategy” for growth which includes straight third-party management, sliver equity deals, and acquisitions through its own internal ownership group.
In addition to its external growth, Winchester emphasized Waterford has made great strides organizationally as well. For example, he noted that the company hasn’t hired an Executive Committee member in some 13 years. “Our whole team is stable here; we have a lot of internal growth so that team is the team that’s making it happen…It’s important from our side that we get all levels of individuals growing within the organization. So we find those individuals in the field that show great promise and put them into our Rising Star program. We’ve got some great examples of individuals who have grown through that. That’s kind of cultivating that younger crop that I think is very important as well,” he said.