Loews’ Dimas charts OE Collection’s course
10 FEBRUARY 2015 8:44 AM
Loews Hotels & Resorts is taking a “smaller-is-better” approach in its quest to launch its OE Collection. Finding unique properties whose owners don’t want to be chain-affiliated is the goal.
LOS ANGELES—Bucking the trend of ramping up a large portfolio as quickly and aggressively as possible, Loews Hotels & Resorts is taking a more calculated approach to its OE Collection soft brand.
While specifically staying away from the words “lifestyle” and “boutique,” Constantine Dimas, the OE Collection’s chief business officer, said during an interview held in conjunction with the Americas Lodging Investment Summit that the collection’s growth model is a pragmatic one to ensure it complements Loews’ overall mission.
“The number of OE properties has to have some relation to the number of Loews properties—it will never be more,” Dimas said. “For the authenticity of our message, the collection in its size needs to be intimate.”
Loews has 22 hotels in its portfolio. All are located in the North America, and the vast majority of those focus on group business.
“OE is an extension of our brand that does not employ overtly the Loews name but leverages and draws strength from Loews,” Dimas said. “The DNA connection is clear. The premium is on originality.”
The OE Collection’s mantra is “original experiences,” but Dimas also pointed out the letters “o” and “e” are also the heart of Loews name, which means the collection will use that as its backbone.
“It’s a collection of individual brands rather than a branded collection,” Dimas said. “The OE Collection derives all of its strength from Loews,” Dimas said.
Helping get the OE Collection off the ground is restaurateur Charles Khabouth, a partner in the restaurant at Loews Hotel Vogue in Montreal, who will open a 100-room OE Collection property in Toronto next year.
Cities high on the priority lists include New York, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.
“They all have to be original experiences,” Dimas said.
Dimas said typical OE Collection properties will be smaller than Loews hotels.
“You’ll never find a 500-room hotel in the OE Collection,” he said.
A challenge to executives
Dimas said the collection got its start about a year ago when Jonathan Tisch, Loews Hotels & Resorts’ chairman and co-chairman of the board of parent company Loews Corporation, challenged the hotel company’s executives to take an introspective look at the brand.
“We did a deep dive,” Dimas said. “We found that we had tremendous capacity to leverage our core business, which is hotel management.”
Dimas said excess capacity at the sales and support enterprise levels were chief areas the company’s executives believed could benefit a collection of hotels.
Loews created an arm’s length division that draws its power from Loews hotels that would operate unbranded independent hotels under a collection banner.
Dimas said 15% to 20% of the markets Loews wanted to enter were consumed by independent lifestyle hotels, so the opportunity was clear.
“The trajectory of the Loews brand was firmly established,” Dimas said, describing it as a luxury, group-based lodging company on a branded platform. “Bigger brands were coming up with their facsimile of the offerings in the boutique space, which we dubbed ‘handmade by machine.’”
Consumers are the winners
Loews is the latest hotel company to enter the “collection” arena, following Marriott International (Autograph Collection), Hilton Worldwide Holdings (Curio-A Collection by Hilton) and Best Western International (BW Premier Collection), among others.
Consumers are the beneficiary of all the activity focused on collections, but they are looking for something else, according to Dimas.
“What I want to do is ‘unchain’ the consumer,” he said. “We want to support the visionaries who create unique assets and the travelers who seek out such hotels.”
All OE Collection properties will be managed by Loews under the same seven-year contract length it offers under the Loews Hotels brand, Dimas said.
Dimas said the company didn’t want to encumber the name with a Loews prefix, so the asset won’t be encumbered if an owner is looking to sell.
“We wanted to align our interest with the owner’s interest,” Dimas said. “As owners of hotels, we think like owners.”
Loews has an ownership stake in all but three of its Loews Hotels; it will not own any OE Collection hotels, Dimas said.
Properties will maintain their own websites as well as be included on the OE Collection umbrella site and the Loews site, Dimas said.
He said positioning a curated collection of intimate properties is a key component of the strategy.
“Curated means elevated. Curated means someone has endorsed and intentionally decided what things will populate that collection,” Dimas said. “With a curated collection, the premium is not on exact consistency at a branded level, but the level of service will always be world-class.”
That will attract a type of traveler that independent hoteliers crave, the executive said.
“The demographic and target market is a discerning and well-traveled guest who wants world-class service, originality, vibrancy and could choose to stay at a luxury brand offering,” Dimas said.