Commune Hotels & Resorts' Niki Leondakis

By Danny King
Niki LeondakisNiki Leondakis last month started her tenure as the first CEO of Commune Hotels & Resorts, the boutique-lifestyle hotel company that was formed last year with the merger of San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre and New York-based Thompson Hotels. Leondakis, former president of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, spoke with hotels editor Danny King.

Q: What are your immediate goals for Commune?

A:
The company has tremendous potential to become a global, multibrand platform with a variety of different brand identities beneath it. My goals are to solidify the identity of Commune. The best of Thompson Hotels' brand essence and Joie de Vivre's essence will be brought forward. We want a common thread but at the same time to maintain the integrity of their individuality.

Q: What about the company's financial targets and expansion plans?

A:
We have 47 properties now. Our revenue is about $450 million, and our goal is to take that to $1 billion in revenue within the next five years. We have seven management and acquisition deals in the pipeline. We see Thompson in a lot of urban primary markets. We're already in Miami, L.A., Chicago and Manhattan, and we believe that Shanghai and Hong Kong are places where Thompson would really resonate. The Joie de Vivre brand could also grow in primary markets throughout the U.S. We're working on East Coast locations.

Q: How would you characterize the essence of the two brands?

A:
Thompson brings a sophisticated luxury experience in a more contemporary style that appeals to a worldly clientele. Joie de Vivre hotels are known and loved for their playfulness and authenticity.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the difference between boutique and lifestyle?

A:
People confuse the terms, and rightly so. There's not really an industry standard for what either one means, and both terms have been hijacked. I'm reluctant to opine on the difference, because it's all over the place. But you could say lifestyle was born out of boutique, and it's more specific.

Q: What is it about San Francisco that's made it a breeding ground of sorts for boutique hoteliers?

A:
People who are attracted to San Francisco and its lifestyle have a little bit of rebellion in them. There's a place here for people who want to go against the grain. San Francisco's also wonderfully diverse, so this is, by its very nature, where creativity occurs, and it's why boutique hotels do well here.

Q: You're going from working for a company founded by one iconic hotelier, the late Bill Kimpton, to taking over a company founded by another, Chip Conley. How are they similar and how are they different?

A:
There's a lot of alignment in what matters most, which is the balance between head and heart in the approach to how business is done and what creates sustainable success. They were both very comfortable going against the grain. But Bill took a much more winding road to get to where he was. Chip had a straighter path.

Q: How has your food-and-beverage background helped you run hotels?

A:
There's much more relevance and alignment in the way you think about boutique and lifestyle with restaurants than with restaurants and traditional hotels. Boutiques were born out of the antiestablishment and unchained experiences. Restaurants are entrepreneurial, and there's a sense of survival and the need to be nimble, quick and efficient. ... So it's a much easier transition to boutique and lifestyle because that same nimbleness makes the best boutique hotels the most successful.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 
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