BOSTON—Although they have equity interest in six Boston-area hotels, Saunders Hotel Group doesn’t consider itself simply an investment group. To Saunders, being a part of the operating process—interacting with the guests and personalizing the hotels’ service offerings—is just as important as the financial commitment, if not more.
That is why, President and CEO Jeff Saunders said, the company doesn’t separate ownership from management.
“We’ll only own what we’re willing to manage and only manage what we’re willing to own,” he said. “We want to put our best efforts forward for our own account.”
The flagship pieces of Saunders’ portfolio consist of historic Boston buildings, each decades old. But the company’s development and management style is modern and progressive, which provides a unique twist.
Saunders owns and manages 214-room The Lenox, dubbed “the original boutique hotel,” and has funded a series of restorations that preserve its historic attributes but add environmentally friendly initiatives. Saunders in 2001 entered into a long-term ground lease with Jurys’ Doyle Hotel Group to convert the historic Boston Police Headquarters into a 4-star hotel and opened Jury’s Boston in 2004 (now named The Back Bay Hotel). And in December Saunders purchased the former John Hancock Hotel and Conference Center for $22.6 million and plans to restore and convert it.
Saunders Hotel Group
The John Hancock was temporarily renamed the Boston Common Hotel, and Saunders plans to operate it as such for about two years while it is under major renovation. It will grow from 64 rooms to about 220 rooms as four floors of conference space will be converted to hotel rooms.
“We’re not big into meeting space,” Saunders said. “We find investment efficiency not in (food and beverage) or meeting space; it’s in selling hotel rooms. Meeting space sitting empty during the day is not a good use of real estate.”
Saunders said the new hotel will be independent and “very upscale.”
“The idea is to position it above The Lenox and the adjacent properties around it, like the (Fairmont Copley Plaza) and the (Taj Boston) and even The Back Bay Hotel, but below (Mandarin Oriental Hotel Boston, Back Bay) and (Four Seasons Hotel Boston),” he said.
Like all of Saunders’ hotels, the company’s newest addition will have a clear sustainability strategy. Saunders has directed the architect to shoot for LEED Gold, and they will “turn over every leaf to see which programs make the most sense.”
“One thing we’ll never do is sacrifice guest comfort just to put another notch in our belt in terms of environmental achievements,” he said.
Sustainability is one of Saunders’ unique differentiators in Boston as it’s a core attribute of the company’s culture.
“It’s as much to do with how we live and operate on a day-to-day basis. It’s really something we weave into the day-to-day operations,” Saunders said. “Every employee by the time they’re in their second week of employment at the firm is entrenched into what the green movement is all about—how we like to do well by doing good.
“There are so many companies out there today that do what is termed ‘greenwashing,’ that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk,” he continued. “The bottom line of green does have to be black; we’re not going to incorporate green initiatives that don’t have some type of payback.”
Sustainability initiatives are just part of what sets Saunders’ hotels apart. Half of the company’s portfolio remains independent because Saunders believes uniqueness is a demand driver in itself.
“It takes a unique set of talents to run a hotel that doesn’t benefit from getting 50% of its business from a reservations system,” Saunders said. “But when you’re in the heart of the city and you have great access to distribution and revenue management that’s going to create a loyal customer base, there really is no need for a brand. We obviously look at soft brands like (Historic Hotels of America) and Preferred Hotel Group, but we’re not going to pay significant franchise fees.”