For Some Hotel Firms, Glass Remains Half Full

Despite the well-documented economic struggles that have laid low the hospitality industry as of late, a number of firms are soldiering on in the face of adversity–and some are even viewing now as a time of opportunity. Less than a week after Intercontinental Hotels Group unveiled plans to build new hotels in Edinburgh and Moscow–the latter being the world’s largest Holiday Inn–Savills L.L.C. has formed an advisory group designed to guide clients in value-added hospitality plays. Savills L.L.C., the real estate investment banking arm of international advisory firm Savills Plc., said the new unit will focus on owners of hotels, casinos, timeshare developments and golf courses, and will provide services related to sales, debt restructuring and mergers and acquisitions. The new Savills group will be headed by David Gutstadt, who previously served for 10 years with Goldman Sachs’s Whitehall Street Real Estate Fund, where he led investment activity in the hotel and gaming sector. While at Goldman, Gutstadt was involved in the acquisition of American Casino & Entertainment Properties and an investment in Hilton Hotels. In a statement, Savills L.L.C. president & CEO John Lyons characterized the current state of the hospitality market as “extremely trying,” but said that now was also a “opportunistic moment to recruit the most talented industry executives,” such as Gutstadt and Kenneth Spears, who will join Savills as a senior vice president, focusing on brokering debt, equity and note sales, as well as advising on restructurings and distressed situations. While firms such as Savills and Intercontinental are looking to take advantage of a market in flux, other companies have seen their plans thrown into chaos. Earlier this year, a lack of construction financing stalled development of Shangri La Chicago, a 222-room hotel planned to open along the Chicago River. And in mid-February, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. and two of its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in New Jersey, after suffering $102 million in losses in the third quarter of last year. On the other hand, as players exit the market, existing firms are seeing opportunities for growth through acquisition. One of the largest such strategies is being undertaken by HEI Hotels & Resorts, which is planning to shell out between $1.5 billion and $2 billion over the next few years to invest in a hospitality market that has seen prices soften due to the decrease in financing availability that has driven many would be buyers out of the market.