23 October 2020
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One of the biggest mistakes owners and developers continue to make is negotiating a “nonbinding” term sheet on various hotel arrangements, such as hotel franchise and hotel management agreements. This can be a costly misstep for the reasons Bob Braun points out in this article on a classic but perennial problem.
First Things First – The Letter of Intent in Hotel Agreements
Bob Braun, Hotel Lawyer
Love at First Sight?
How hotel developers and owners, on one hand, and hotel brands, on the other, meet and agree to brand a hotel or resort property is a complicated process. Sometimes developers or owners seek out a brand, and sometimes a brand will approach a potential owner. Either way, the developer/owner meets with a development executive from the brand, and the two parties see if they have enough in common to talk seriously about a long-term relationship. During those early stages, each is trying to demonstrate its resources, seriousness, and commitment to a long-term relationship of 20 years or more. They trade pro forma financials, introduce key personnel, and in pre-Covid days, wine and dine each other. Brands will research the background and business history of their potential franchisee, and owners will seek out other owners for references and their real-life experiences. Owners will study the performance of brands throughout the world, especially where the project is in a foreign locale. The process resembles a mating dance: owners are courting brands, and brands are courting owners. And most typically, owners declare the seriousness of their intentions with an application fee – a very large application fee.
At that point, the brand and owner negotiate and enter into a non-binding letter of intent. The letter of intent makes it clear – the terms in the letter are nothing more than a good faith statement of the desire to move forward and discuss the details. Owners negotiate the basic terms in the letter of intent, and after seeing that the letter is, by its terms, not binding, they sign it, believing that they and the lawyers will have another chance to revisit those issues that might concern them.
Reality Sets In
Unfortunately, brands and managers don’t take that position. They believe that while the letter of intent may state that it is “not binding,” the terms in the letter are not subject to meaningful negotiation once it is signed. More than that, they take the position that if a business or legal term is important to the owner, it must be in the “non-binding” letter of intent; otherwise, the brand will revert to their standard terms and conditions. As becomes painfully clear as the parties negotiate a franchise or management agreement with the brand, there are relatively few points open for negotiation, but if overlooked in the preliminary discussions, it may be impossible to reclaim them no matter how important. CONTINUE READING →