Where Not To Build a Hotel
by Larry Mundy
The economy is improving. People are traveling again. Things are looking up for the hotel business.
You know what that means, of course. It means hotel developers are in high gear planning, financing and building new projects. If they hurry, and there are no glitches in zoning, and the loan terms are favorable, and construction gets started before winter, then maybe, just maybe, the new hotel can be opened just as the industry enters another “down cycle.” Actually, if enough new hotels are opened, that can cause the next down cycle all by itself, but that’s another column.
Some new hotels are instantly successful. Some are in trouble before the grand opening balloons pop. If I could forecast reliably whether a given new hotel project will make money, I would be far more popular, and able to afford much more expensive bad habits. But I do have some suggestions where hotel developers should not locate a new hotel:
Near an older sports stadium
Nothing makes your sport-fan market disappear faster than a shiny new stadium opening across town, and the home team moving there. But every sports-team owner in the country is pressuring local civic leaders for a proper new $1 billion facility with an opening roof and thousands of expensive “skyboxes,” built at public expense and leased to the team owner for $1 a year. The old stadium will host two tractor-pulls, and will then be demolished to make room for public housing.
Adjacent to the corporate-campus headquarters of a new high-tech company
A lot of people learned this lesson during the dot-com bust. Nothing appears and disappears faster than a fast-moving, high-tech enterprise. The amazing new gadget they can’t make fast enough for $300 will be cloned in Taiwan and on the shelves at Wal-Mart next year for $19.97, and the stock that surged through the $100 mark will soon be useful only as scratch paper. You may sell some group rooms to lawyers while the “creative accounting” is investigated, but after that your hotel will be as empty as the former Intergalactic Headquarters building.
Near a pristine national park
You know, the kind of eco-tourist boutique hotel made of rough-hewn cedar, but which has a 24-hour masseuse and $500 wine bottles in the cellar. You may get the rich jet setters trying to look rugged, but next week the nice folks who run the U.S. government will probably decide to allow oil exploration, strip mining, and storage of nuclear waste at the base of Mount Rebus. Jet-setters are so fickle.
In any country whose government changes weekly
In the search for emerging markets, U.S. companies are planning hotels on the white-sand beaches of various banana republics with liberal gaming laws and a constabulary eager to supplement their meager wages with, um, “contributions.” Just realize that when your assets are “nationalized,” that generally means you don’t own them anymore, and that the former Minister of Jungle Tourism probably thinks he can run the hotel better than you anyway. Especially if he gets it for free.
On a major earthquake fault line, artificial beach made of fill materials, or area known for sink-holes
Hotels tend to be heavier than many other structures, like pup tents or camping trailers. If the first floor or two suddenly goes subterranean, guests may balk at staying on the upper floors as well. A corollary is to avoid sites of former landfills, where decaying garbage will bubble methane to the surface for the next 300 years. You have enough methane problems just hosting the chili cook-off.
Next door to any hotel owned by a governmental agency
You don’t want to compete for rate with a hotel that has no debt service or profit motive, and funds its capital needs with “mill levies.” There aren’t many of these catering to the general public, and most of them are nothing to write home about, but remember that anything run by the government has more money than you, because they print the stuff.
In any market where the average occupancy rate, expressed as a percentage, is lower than the number of grades you completed in school
I don’t care how marvelous and unique your hotel will be. If there are three other hotels in the market, and each has three cars in the parking lot at 3 AM, the “market” consists of approximately nine people. Even if you get them all, and run the other three hotels completely out of business, your lender will soon own your hotel. Developers always argue that their hotel will be so unique and wonderful it will “induce” business. The Hotel Developer’s Dictionary defines “induce” this way: “induce, v., in-dooce. (1) to be so unique and wonderful that people stay at your hotel, even though their meeting is in another town; (2) to be even more unique and wonderful than that, so that local residents stay at your hotel just to escape their own drab abodes; (3) to hallucinate with drunken optimism.”
Those are just some suggestions where not to put a new hotel. I’m sure our readers could come up with dozens of additional suggestions, all of which boil down to this: “Don’t put it next to mine!”