HB Exclusive: Sonesta launches Luxury & Lifestyle Development team

Sonesta International Hotels Corporation has established a Luxury & Lifestyle Lodging Development team, led by industry veteran Phil Hugh, who will serve as SVP.

The team will lead Sonesta’s growth of its upper-upscale brands, which include The James and The Royal Sonesta franchises in the Americas. This announcement underscores Sonesta’s commitment to and growing leadership position within the lifestyle and luxury sectors, according to the company.

“As we made an aggressive set of decisions last fall with Royal Sonesta, and with the addition of The James, we recognized pretty quickly that in the lifestyle & luxury and upper-upscale spaces—those are projects that are around $40 million to $100 million, where you need a different type of executive to communicate with the folks that are interested in developing in that space,” Brian Quinn, chief development officer, Sonesta, told Hotel Business. “It’s more institutional clients who want to own them, and it’s definitely an opportunity to partner with the premier management companies. So, we had to make sure that we had a team that could talk to that development community and represent the Royal Sonesta positioning with upper-upscale and the Luxury & Lifestyle space with The James.”

Having Hugh, who previously served in chief development officer roles with Radisson Hotel Group Americas and Red Roof, on board gives the team a proven leader.

“He has an incredible network of developers that he’s worked with in the past, so that’s instant value creation,” said Quinn. “He knows many of our existing franchisees and our existing lodging development executives. He has relationships with John Murray, our CEO, and Keith Pierce, our president of franchise development, and he and I have a friendship. He’s a known quantity that knows how to play in this space and his ability to talk to the institutional folks, the premier management companies, the family offices, the VC community and the private equity community is critical in this space.”

He pointed out that the industry veteran has the tools to grow the two brands’ portfolios.

“Phil is a patient man, and in the upper-upscale and luxury, lifestyle space, you need to be patient,” said Quinn. “Those deals take more time. They’re more complex. They have more stakeholders that want to be heard from as you move through the process. You need to be able to talk to the partners, the operators, the people and the lending community about where the brand fits, what services the franchise, the brand relationship we’re going to bring and what expectations there are of the developer and the operator.”

Joining Hugh on the team as regional VPs are William (Bill) Hall, a new hire, as well as Tom Williams and Mike Higgins. The team is fully committed to Sonesta’s ethos of strong relationships with owners, operators and franchisees supported by a distinctive, differentiated hospitality product, according to the company.

“The luxury and lifestyle markets are a compelling opportunity for Sonesta,” said Hugh. “Sonesta has continued to expand its development capabilities and we, as a team, are committed to working with owners, management companies and the development community to grow this segment.”

Quinn pointed out that the company has one Royal Sonesta property and two James hotels in the works.

“We have signed a new-construction Royal Sonesta in Coachella, CA, and we’re excited about that project coming in down the line,” he said. “We are going to convert our Royal Sonesta in Washington, DC’s DuPont Circle into a James, as well as one of our assets in Chicago. We have three Royal Sonestas in Chicago, so we felt like with that duplicate representation there, we could see the ground a little bit with The James. That will be joining the asset that we sort of inherited in New York, The James NoMad.”

The chief development officer noted that there are growth plans already in place for both brands.

“The gift of having the brands roll out in a very deliberate fashion is that there is a strategy that sits underneath both of them,” said Quinn. “Our capital partner, SVC, has made a public commitment to work to get into Los Angeles and Miami with an upper-upscale, luxury or lifestyle product. We know that we need to have a marquee asset in those two markets. If you step back for a moment and look at the top 25 or top 50 markets, those are the really only two holes where we don’t have what we would call a marquee asset. What’s exciting about The James is that in the lifestyle boutique space, you pull markets in like Asheville, NC; Savannah, GA; and Charleston, SC—lifestyle markets where there’s a recognition that being beverage-forward, design-led and rooted in the community is critical.”