Reality nibbles at the hotel sector

The hotel sector has spent the last year or so telling the story that travellers have infinite cash and are only too happy to spend it on luxury stays and the astonishingly-priced flights that get them there.

This was backed up by a number of lovely luxury brand launches – OK, some were soft brands but you must take the luxury hotels where you can find them – and we were all distracted from things like Travelodge refinancings, because that’s not who we are now.

It turns out that this is still who we are. Watching The Kardashians does not mean that you are, in fact, a Kardashian yourself. The reality is available in the nearest mirror and yes, you might take comfort in the fact that you read books, but you’ll be doing that on your delayed and overcrowded train to your advantageously-priced holiday destination this summer, botox notwithstanding. 

The good news for those luxury brands is that, as ever, the Kardashians need to stay somewhere, they can no more stop holidaying than we can be alone with our thoughts on public transport. 

The appreciation that few of our parents were prominent celebrity lawyers is reflected in the latest batch of brand launches, which this week included Marriott and its affordable midscale extended stay brand currently being referred to as Project MidX Studios. And yes, MidX does sound like a way to measure trousers which is probably larger than you thought and would look baggy on the average arse.

Kardashians aside, the release is unable to conjure the kind of breathless excitement one usually enjoys in these things, although president & CEO Anthony Capuano’s description of the brand as meeting “the needs of guests seeking long-term comforts at a moderate price point”, does rather conjure those conjugal visit caravans from movies set in US prisons. 

On a plus side, floor plans are included in the release and we love those and don’t get enough of them. Very handy for explaining to the rest of the sector what extended stay is. 

Away from moderate price points, Center Parcs UK is being sold off by Brookfield and Sky has named CVC as one of the likely buyers as the Canadians seek to double their money. Center Parcs remains an interesting bellwether for skintness, given its capacity to cost really a shocking amount to stay somewhere that isn’t a real place at all. Are the squirrels animatronic? No one is sure.

What is certain is that, before the pandemic, it was one of the few reliable domestic leisure brands in the UK. Things have evolved since there, but it remains true that, if money really is no object and you are prepared to throw stacks and stacks of it at a problem – in this case your offspring – you can have the kind of family holiday where you only see them at mealtimes and even then not consistently. And it’s a bona fide platform, which investors love. 

What does all this mean for the sector? It’s easy to take the mick out of the likes of Marriott talking about the need to meet investor demand, but it’s good to see them doing it. For the first time in living brand memory, there is proper demand across the chain scales for hotels, all at the same time. Investing in hotels used to be about ego at the top level and practical returns at the bottom, but the move into the mainstream as an asset class means that there is now something for every investor, which can only mean more of them. And with them efficiency, scrutiny and all those good things which help us see what’s real and what’s fiction. 

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