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Hotel Management Agreement performance standards — The Owner’s Return test

25 June 2010


Hotel Operating Agreement, HOA, Hotel Management Agreement, HMA, Hotel Management Contract, Management Contract. Hotel Operator, Hotel Manager, Hotel Owner. RFP for Hotel Manager. RFP for Hotel Operator, How to get a great hotel operator.


Contracts between hotel owners and managers (or operators) controlling the management of a hotel go by various names. They are called hotel management agreements, HMAs, hotel management contracts or hotel operating agreements. For convenient reference, this article will generally use the term “Hotel Management Agreement” or “HMA.” However all these terms can be used interchangeably and mean the same thing, just as with hotel operator or hotel manager.

Whatever they are called, Hotel Management Agreements allocate risk between the hotel manager and the hotel owner. They are critical in determining the profitability and value of a hotel.

Hotel Lawyer with hotel management agreement performance standard to take care of Owner’s concerns. With experience gained in negotiating, re-negotiating, litigating, arbitrating and advising on more than 1,000 hotel management agreements and more than $87 billion of hotel transactions, the members of JMBM’s Global Hospitality Group® wanted to share some lessons learned on the subject. They are all available at

To see the rich library of materials on Hotel Management Agreements, you can click here: Hotel Management Agreements ( Or you can just do a GOOGLE search on “hotel management agreements” and you will see it near the top of the search.

Hotel Management Agreement performance standards:
The Owner’s Return test
Jim Butler and Robert E. Braun | Hotel Lawyers

The hotel management agreement or HMA is one of the most important factors in the financial success or failure of a hotel, and the value of an owner’s or lender’s interests in the property. One of the many important provisions in the HMA can be the performance standard the Operator is required to meet, and the consequences of such a failure. This is the third article in the series on this subject.

In first article, we talked about performance standards in HMAs. We explained why they are so important and discussed the respective concerns of Operators and Owners.

In the second article, we looked at a typical hotel Operator performance clause and how it protected the Operator interests. For the Owner to have a termination right under such a clause, the hotel Operator must fail both prongs of a two-prong test: (1) the RevPAR test, which compares the financial results of the hotel to a competitive set of hotels, and (2) the budget test, which requires the Operator to achieve profitability based on the Operator’s projections in a budget. We also pointed out some of the challenges posed by that test.

In this third article, we will look at a performance clause that takes better care of the Owner’s concerns and which raises some issues with Operators.

What is the interest that Owners want to protect with a performance clause?

The bottom line is that Owners want to receive an adequate return on their hotel investment. Owners need the return because they are expected to pay debt service, provide working capital, fund capital expenditures and provide a return to their investors. If they don’t get that return, Owners should have certain rights. There are a variety of tests, but we believe the most effective, meaningful and fair test is an Owner’s Return performance test.

The concept of an Owner’s Return performance clause is rather simple: Unless the Operator can manage the hotel to generate sufficient profit and distributable cash to provide the Owner with a specified return on investment, the performance clause has not been satisfied, and certain consequences follow.

Normally, we use the Owner’s Return test for two purposes:

  1. Create a Viable Investment. Identifying the Owner’s Return clarifies the expectations of the Owner and the Operator, and is an essential part of the “bargain” between the Owner and the Operator. Ultimately, if the Operator cannot fulfill its part of the bargain, the performance standard gives a hotel Owner the option to terminate the hotel Operator when the test has failed. Sometimes the ability to terminate an operator can be the only effective way to truly get the Operator’s attention and redirection to take care of the Owner’s concerns.
  2. Hurdle for incentive compensation and subordination of fees. Independent of any termination right that may attach, no incentive fees should be payable to the Operator in any year unless the performance test has been satisfied. Often, a portion of the Operator’s base fee – say anything over 1.5% of gross revenues, or perhaps anything in excess of half of the base fees – may similarly be conditioned on and subordinated to payment of the Owner’s Return for the given year.

How Do I Measure Owner’s Return?

The required Owner’s Return is determined by this formula, calculated annually:

Owner’s Return = (Total Investment in the hotel) x (Agreed upon investment return)

For example, if the total investment in a hotel was $25 million, and the agreed upon investment return was 12%, the Owner’s Return would be determined as follows:

Owner’s Return = $25 million x 12%
Owner’s Return = $3 million

Total investment in the hotel

The first key to measuring the Owner’s Return is to calculate the Owner’s total initial investment in the property, including all costs associated with the investment, both debt and equity, and all hard and soft costs.

That initial investment should be increased each year to add all of the Owner’s additional investments. We typically provide for the addition of three major items to the calculation of Owner’s investment in the hotel:

  1. Contribution to FF&E fund, when contribution is made. Virtually all management agreements (and franchise agreements and loan agreements) require an Owner to set aside a reserve to pay for regular replacements of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E). These reserves reduce the cash the Owner might otherwise retain from the operation of the hotel, and represent an additional investment by Owner.
  2. Capital expenditures not paid from the FF&E fund. As a hotel ages, the FF&E fund will not be adequate for the maintenance of a hotel. Major upgrades to its soft goods, replacements of furniture, fixtures, and equipment, or other capital projects will usually be paid out of hotel revenues (that would otherwise have gone to Owner) or from additional investment by the Owner. Unless these amounts came from the FF&E fund, they also represent additional investment by Owner.
  3. Any additional working capital contributed to the hotel, not otherwise included in the preceding items. From time to time, working capital may be required for various reasons, such as seasonal business needs or operating deficits from disasters or business cycles.

Investment return.

After the Owner’s total investment in the property is calculated for a given year, the Owner’s Return is derived by applying a percentage to that which must be paid out of profits to satisfy the test.

A common goal of Owners is to achieve something on the order of a 12% return on their total investment in the hotel. Over the past 20 years we have regularly obtained a reasonable Owner’s Return provision from almost every major brand — at least when they really want to manage the particular hotel.

Their willingness to give this kind of performance test is a much truer reflection of their enthusiasm for a project and their belief in its success than all the laudatory fluff shared in the process of selling the Owner on hiring the Operator.

What do Operators think of this test?

Operators understand the importance of a return to the Owner, but often object to this test, particularly when it could allow an Owner to terminate a management agreement. As we have pointed out before, hotel Operators do not want to guarantee performance, and limit the tests of performance to those things that are within their control. Since Operators cannot control the net income from the property or the Owner’s acquisition costs or continuing investments in the hotel, allowing an Owner to terminate the agreement if the test is not met may be problematic.

On the other hand, if an Operator can’t manage a hotel to provide Owner with a reasonable rate of return, the maybe Owner should at least have the option to change things up.

Hotel Management Agreement resources:

You can see all of the rich library of articles focusing on Hotel Management Agreements on Just GOOGLE “hotel management agreements” and you’ll see it right at the top of your search. Or click here, Hotel Management Agreements.

The complete series of hotel management agreement articles on performance standards is as follows:

Hotel management agreement performance standards and why they matter

Hotel Management Agreement performance standards — The Operator’s take

Hotel Management Agreement performance standards — The Owner’s Return test


Robert Braun
is a senior member of the Global Hospitality Group® at JMBM.
Mr. Braun advises hospitality clients with respect to management agreements, franchise agreements and spa agreements. He also advises on business formation, financing, mergers and acquisitions, venture capital financing and joint ventures, telecommunications, software, Internet, e-commerce, data processing and outsourcing agreements for the hospitality industry. Contact him at 310.785.5331 or
This is Jim Butler, author of and hotel lawyer, signing off. We’ve done more than $87 billion of hotel transactions and have developed innovative solutions to unlock value from troubled hotel transactions. Who’s your hotel lawyer?

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