|Sonesta International Hotels Corporation has aggressively launched Sonesta ES Suites extended-stay properties in 17 markets, including the Sonesta ES Suites Burlington in Massachusetts pictured above.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Seizing upon what it sees as a significant market opportunity, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation has aggressively launched Sonesta ES Suites extended-stay properties in 17 U.S. markets, with more to come.
The newly branded properties, all owned by Hospitality Properties Trust of Newton, Massachusetts, have been converted from 15 Staybridge Suites and two Residence Inn locations under Sonesta’s management. Key markets include Atlanta, Houston and Orlando, Florida, with secondary locations ranging from Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio.
The extended-stay initiative is supported by little threat of new supply in the category over the next 12 to 18 months and a resulting trend toward significant pricing power going forward, said Mark Skinner, a partner at hospitality research and consulting firm The Highland Group.
Mike Wohl, the newly appointed VP of operations at Sonesta ES Suites, shares Skinner’s positive prognosis for the category.
Sonesta ES Suites
“We really like the extended-stay business,” said Wohl, who came from a senior management stint with Marriott’s Residence Inn and most recently developed IHG’s Extended Stay Owner’s Certification Program for the Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites brands. “It has matured to the point where it is a solid fundamental market segment on a national scale. It’s a proven segment, and we really like the business model.”
Wohl said the Sonesta team plans to grow its new brand “quite aggressively on a national scale.”
There are good underlying reasons for Sonesta’s enthusiasm for extended stay, said Jan Freitag, senior VP of global development at STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com.
Year to date, occupancy through July for extended-stay hotels was 79%, compared to 62.3% for the entire industry. “That implies that the hotels are full Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday,” Freitag said. “That’s a really strong number because it speaks to the lack of availability and therefore the pricing power that is in the hands of the (extended-stay) hotels.”
Freitag said average daily rate for extended-stay properties increased 4.4% last year and has already increased 5.6% through July. “That is a fairly strong trajectory of room rate increases,” he said.
Although no comparative data is available yet from either Sonesta or HPT for properties converted only this month (August), Sonesta expects gains in occupancy, ADR and revenue per available room that will reflect the relative strengths of the extended-stay category.
Extended-stay hotels offer another key business advantage—lower operating costs because, for example, they do not require daily housekeeping for all rooms or a staff of bellmen or concierges. “The operations are lean and mean compared to a full-service hotel,” Freitag said. “And that leads to better operational efficiencies.”
Skinner agreed with Freitag’s assessment, adding: “The timing is very good for Sonesta. Extended stay is coming back strong. And there is very, very little supply growth on the horizon. So, we’re getting very, very close with extended stay to the peak occupancy years of 2000, 2005 and 2006.”
And by converting existing assets, Skinner said Sonesta has chosen “a good way to kick off a new brand.”
Sonesta’s extended-stay play also complements the full-service Sonesta and luxury Royal Sonesta brands, Wohl said. “That means that in any given market, our brands can complement one another rather than compete,” he said.
Sonesta is not yet a nationally recognized brand, Wohl said, but it has a very good reputation. Therefore, the new extended-stay move opens up a healthy market segment for future brand extension. “And we also think we will add significantly to the extended-stay business as we grow the new brand out across the country,” he said.
Despite its ambitious plans, Sonesta is facing significant competition in the extended-stay segment.
Skinner sees the new Hyatt House brand, launched late last year, and Element from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, as the Sonesta’s biggest competitors.
“Hyatt House has converted and also acquired other brands for the new Hyatt House brand, which they are currently continuing to develop,” Skinner said. “I’m sure they are also looking for more current acquisition opportunities, as well as new development.”
Hyatt House also got off to an aggressive start, Skinner said, acquiring and rebranding LodgeWorks’ mix of 24 Summerfield Suites and Sierra Suites properties last summer for $802 million.
Wohl said that Hyatt House and Element are key competitors, but added that Residence Inn by Marriott, Staybridge Suites and Homewood Suites by Hilton are on his watch list as well.
However, he believes Sonesta has a unique advantage.
“Our strategic advantage is that Sonesta ES Suites is our only limited-service hotel,” he said. “That will allow us to have a laser focus on what makes an extended-stay hotel work in a local marketplace. We’re not managing several different limited-service brands in the same market, and we think that gives us a distinctive advantage to do what’s right for our brand in each individual market.”
The owner perspective
Just as Sonesta sees an important and timely market opportunity, so do the owners that have converted properties to the new brand, said Jamie Grafmiller, the newly appointed GM of the Dublin, Ohio, Sonesta ES Suites.
“Based on the opportunity in the particular hotels HPT had a chance to reflag, they saw a fresh new outlook that could focus purely on extended stay in those particular markets,” said Grafmiller, who was assistant GM of the former Residence Inn before it converted on 11 August. “And that was attractive to them, as well as with a portion of their full-service portfolio.”
HPT also has converted full-service properties in Philadelphia and Hilton Head, South Carolina, to the Sonesta brand and converted luxury properties in Baltimore and Houston to the Royal Sonesta brand.
Because Sonesta’s growth strategy is not exclusive to extended stay, owners such as HPT can take advantage of a significant new branding opportunity, Grafmiller said. “They saw a chance to do something new and fresh that had some more far-reaching market advantages for them,” she said.