22 December 2014
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A version of this article first appeared in Hotel Business Review in December 2014, and this article is reprinted with permission from www.hotelexecutive.com.
The shrinking terms of hotel management agreements
Better bargaining position for hotel owners on HMAs
Jim Butler and Mark S. Adams | Hotel Lawyers
The relationship between hotel owners and managers continues to evolve. Hotel management agreements historically were long-term. Fifty to sixty year terms were common. However, in the last few years, hotel owners have successfully negotiated shorter contract durations and other more favorable terms, even from the largest and most sought-after major brands. This trend is likely to continue and expand as brands realize that hotel owners have the power to terminate so-called no cut, long-term hotel management agreements, despite contrary provisions in the contract which courts now routinely ignore as a matter of public policy.
The Separation Of Hotel Ownership From Hotel Operations
Trade, pilgrimage, conquest, and adventure have been the driving forces of travel since ancient times. For more than 5,000 years, accommodations for these travelers were provided by inns or monasteries. These lodging facilities were typically owned and operated by the same persons. That ownership pattern still exists today, particularly among mom-and-pop operations or small chains, but more and more, there is a separation of hotel ownership and hotel management.
This trend first gained traction when Kemmons Wilson started the first hotel franchising of Holiday Inns in the 1950s, and picked up momentum in the next couple of decades when hotel operators decided to move hotel real estate off their balance sheets with sale-leaseback transactions, and when hotel investors bought hotels and elected to lease their hotels to professional hotel operators. The separation of ownership and management continued and became the prevalent structure as hotel management agreements were developed in the 1970s and proliferated in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, particularly for larger, higher-end hotel properties.
But in the last ten or 15 years the franchise model has become the dominant one, at least by number of branded rooms, and particularly for the rapidly expanded extended stay and select service segments of the industry. Under this model, ownership is separate from branding, and usually a professional (unbranded) hotel management company is a surrogate for the brand.
Ultimately, the separation of ownership and management brought about by this evolution meant that the traditional hotel companies focused more on finding more owners of hotel real estate that they could brand and manage, and the owners of hotel real estate (lacking hotel brand or management capacity) focused on collecting rents or looking to their brand and operator to optimize profits. In other words, the concept of a hotel being owned by one entity and operated by another became a preferred model, whether under a hotel lease, hotel management agreement or a franchise.
Since the 1990s, when some estimate that 60% of the hotel rooms in the U.S. were unbranded, more owners have elected to brand their hotels to access the professional management, finaceability, marketing power and resources of the brands. Today, unbranded hotel rooms probably comprise less than 20% of the hotel rooms in the U.S. This massive shift to the brands further reinforced the separation of hotel ownership from hotel branding and management.
The separation has been facilitated by the fact that hotel guests do not particularly care who owns the title to the hotel real estate as long as the hotel’s physical facilities and service levels meet their expectations and are predictable, satisfactory, clean and safe. Branding was one way to provide assurances of consistency and meeting minimum brand standards. In this evolving dynamic, brands focused on operations, brand standards, and system expansion. They were less capital-constrained because owners now provide the bulk of capital to build and maintain hotel real estate and related facilities.
The Hotel Management Agreement (“HMA”)
The HMA is one of the clearest separations of ownership and operation. A branded HMA with one of the traditional hotel management companies is typically a long-term agreement between the owner and operator under which the operator is delegated virtual control over the operations of the hotel. The principal provisions in an HMA are, as follows: CONTINUE READING →