8 December 2018
Hotel Lawyer on Owners’ concerns with hotel brand franchise agreements — Areas of Protection or Non-competition clauses
My partner Bob Braun is a senior member of our Global Hospitality Group® and has experience with many hundreds of hotel management and franchise agreements. Bob is also co-author of the Hotel Management Agreement & Franchise Agreement Handbook (3rd edition), and has first-hand experience with branding and management for every major traditional hotel brand, including a number of multi-branded properties. Today he explores the growing problem for hotel franchisees in gaining meaningful protection from other hotels operating under their franchisor’s brands.
Hotel Franchise Agreements:
What happened to my Area of Protection?
Bob Braun, Hotel Lawyer
Brand concentration, new brand proliferation and ascendance of the franchise model of branding
Brand concentration has intensified greatly over recent years and many new brands have been created. At last count (and the count changes often), Marriott owns 30 brands, Accor has 33, Wyndham has 18, Hilton has 14, IHG has 13, Choice has 11 and Hyatt has 10. For a hospitality chain, a portfolio of brands used to represent a customer and regional segmentation strategy designed to target buyers across the economic spectrum and resonate with local preferences.
Before the mergers and acquisitions, new brand launches, and the development of soft brands, a hotel chain typically had a few iconic brands in each chain scale that customers could easily recognize and differentiate from the competition. Guests could rely on their knowledge of the brands for a predictable experience commensurate to the brand promise. Moreover, it was common for brands to operate, own, or both operate and own properties, giving brands “skin in the game” and greater ability to create a uniform guest experience. Over the years, however, franchising became the preferred model for growth, shifting more of the costs of development and costs of ownership to hotel owners. Today, you would be hard-pressed to name a hotel that owns a significant number of properties.
While the move to managed and franchised hotels freed up capital to invest in new growth, the brands faced a new dilemma — how to build or convert more hotels in a market where they already had operating branded properties. After all, brands could not rely solely on fee-based revenue from existing properties growing at single-digit RevPAR to meet expectations of Wall Street investors, but they also couldn’t open the same brand next to one that already existed.
As brands pursued franchised growth, they have also tried to retain the right to saturate a market with their affiliated flags. Hotel brands now uniformly reserve the right to operate competing properties in the same location as existing properties — helping them to fulfill their goal of expanding their markets. Hotel owners, of course, have a different view — having the only property of their brand (or of any competing property, whatever the brand) is a benefit, and allows the owner comfort that they will be able to benefit from their investment.
Owners’ challenges in obtaining protection from competition by their brand’s other hotel owners using the same reservation system.
Owners see a number of benefits to limiting competition within the brand: CONTINUE READING →