Marriott’s CEO shares 4 futures for Starwood
08 MAY 2015 6:07 AM
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson thinks Starwood Hotels’ exploration of strategic alternatives will end with one of these four possibilities.
Arne Sorenson, Marriott International’s unflappable president and CEO, nimbly navigated analysts’ questions about his company’s potential interest in Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide during an earnings call last week.
(Starwood, for those who forgot to visit Hotel News Now in the past week, announced it was exploring a full range of strategic and financial alternatives as a means to increase shareholder value.)
In a nutshell, he said Starwood doesn’t fit the profile of a typical acquisition target for Marriott—of which there have been many in recent years (see: AC, Gaylord, Protea and Delta).
What was lacking in that answer was what he thought would become of Starwood regardless of Marriott’s interest.
Sorenson has one of the most astute business minds in this industry. His role also grants him a level of perspective and insider knowledge that many pundits lack—this wayward journalist included.
So imagine my delight when Sorenson pulled out the proverbial crystal ball during a “hard talk” (I always laugh at that descriptor in conference programs) on Wednesday at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference in Dubai.
The way Sorenson sees it, there are four potential outcomes for Starwood:
1. Marriott or Hilton Worldwide Holdings acquires it
He included Hilton because, well, Marriott and Hilton are perhaps two of a very small handful of public hotel companies with the balance sheet and clout to pull off such a transaction.
Just don’t count on it. Both Sorenson and his counterpart, Hilton’s Chris Nassetta, publically and thoroughly downplayed the likelihood that either would actually pull the trigger.
2. Starwood acquires another company
This one caught me by surprise. While Starwood Chairman Bruce Duncan made clear the company was exploring all options, I never considered this to be one of them.
Sorenson said it could make sense for a company that boasts a strong portfolio of select-service brands but lacking in the higher-end segments. It’s no secret Starwood’s own select-service brands (Four Points, Element and Aloft) have been received less than enthusiastically in the market. There are only 300 of them combined. Hilton’s powerhouse Hampton brand, by comparison, has more than 2,000.
It’s also no secret Starwood’s strength lies in luxury with the W Hotels, St. Regis and The Luxury Collection brands.
By acquiring another company with proven select-service slate, Starwood could definitively answer that nagging question of unit growth once and for all.
3. Starwood gets snagged by a buyer from the Middle East or Asia
There’s certainly enough capital to go around among the sovereign wealth funds and other investors who have made similar splashes with big investments. Sorenson sees Starwood as an ideal inroad for a first timer to the hotel industry who wants to enter in a big, big way.
4. Steady as she goes
Just because Starwood is exploring strategic alternatives does not mean the company’s board will act on any of them, Sorenson said. They might very well maintain the current ownership structure, aside from perhaps spinning off owned assets into a real estate investment trust.
“I think they’re all potentially likely outcomes, except maybe the first,” Sorenson said in closing.
Before I close here, let me add one other: While Sorenson suggested Starwood might scoop up another public company with a strong select-service brand portfolio, I think it might be the other way around. Without naming names, I can think of two or three companies that would find synergies in such a move. And they wouldn’t have to give up control in the process.
Now on to the usual fodder …
What’s making me happy this week?
AHIC: The aforementioned Arabian Hotel Investment Conference is my once-a-year immersion into the dynamic Middle Eastern hotel landscape. And what a fascinating immersion it is. Hearing new sources provide fresh takes on same of the most tried tropes in our industry is music to this reporter’s ears. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for even more of it.
Stat of the week
$140 billion: Amount spent on global outbound travel by Muslim travelers during 2013, according to the most recent data available from a Thomson Reuters report (registration required).
As Rafi-uddin Shikoh, CEO of DinarStandard, which contributed to the report, explained during a breakout session at AHIC that represents a tremendous opportunity for global hotel companies to embrace the Halal lifestyle and implement shariah-compliant policies in hotels. (I’ll dig deeper into the issue in a separate article soon.)
For the sake of comparison, the entire U.S. outbound travel market spent $131.3 million during 2013.
Quote of the week
“Each precise market in the Middle East is quite different from another in terms of what drives their demand and what are their prospects for the future.”
—Marriott’s Arne Sorenson during his “hard talk” at AHIC.
If I left AHIC with any overarching theme, it’s this. Woe to those who paint this vibrant, volatile region with a broad stroke. Each country (and the markets within) should be considered separately.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.