When Rob Robinson joined OLS Hotels and Resorts in July as its vice president, it was a move that provided a plethora of opportunities to the hospitality industry veteran.
He would join a team that included Ben Rafter, whom he knew well from their years in hospitality in Hawaii, and get a chance to be part of the investment team that was taking control of OLS with an ambitious plan to move it forward in the next decade.
Rafter, former president and CEO of Aqua Hospitality, had been involved with OLS and put together a group to purchase and take over management of the company, which owns or operates more than 20 properties, the bulk of which are concentrated in the western U.S. Robinson, previously a managing director for Highgate Hospitality, is heading up the company's new Hawaii office, where they are planning to add to their Aloha State portfolio of properties in the coming years.
Additionally, Robinson revealed, they are in the early stages of rebranding the company, leaving the OLS moniker behind. OLS once stood for Outrigger Lodging Services and was affiliated with the Hawaii-founded hospitality company. That affiliation ended in the 1990s, Robinson said, but the company continued to use just the initials. Now that it's under new ownership and enhancing its presence in Hawaii, they felt a revamp was best to refresh the brand and avoid any unnecessary confusion.
"It's also just an opportunity to rebrand into an exciting new identity, to show the reinvention of the company with new ownership," Robinson said.
While the new branding is a work in progress, OLS is moving forward with plans in Hawaii. Rafter and Robinson saw an opening in the Aloha State, an opportunity to focus on the midmarket hotels that are too small to catch the attention of the global hospitality heavyweights.
"We see an opportunity in Hawaii to specialize in smaller hotels," Robinson said. "Most of the institutional and mainland money coming into market is on big deals on large properties trading for astronomical amounts of money. They don't want to bother with some of the smaller properties we consider to be hidden gems. And, we're here and we're local. We wanted to have an office here and make sure our Hawaii operations stayed in the state."
The first order of business is a multimillion-dollar redesign and rebrand of the 72-room Hotel Renew in Waikiki, a boutique property the company owns and operates. That work will commence in 2019.
"The property is in great shape, but we plan to do some more renovations in the first half of next year," Robinson said. "There will be a room and lobby refresh, new furniture, new carpets, new wallpaper. It will remain Hotel Renew, but the rebrand will have a real wellness angle to it. The lobby will have a small artisan juice and coffee bar where we'll highlight local products and vendors."
OLS has also taken on management of the Royal Grove Hotel in Waikiki.
"That's a place that has been owned and operated by a local family for 50 years," Robinson said. "But they know the property needs renovation, which is outside their realm of expertise. So they approached us as the local guys to take over management and guide them as they take on the renovation process. They weren't going to hand it over to a mainland management company."
Going forward, the plan is to stay in the boutique hotel space. Robinson sees added flexibility in targeting those properties.
"With a more boutique property you have more options and freedom, you get more of local feel and experience," Robinson said. "Bigger hotels have a harder time delivering on a truly personalized experience. We want to support the local community and really partner with lots of locals on not just products but services and experiences, as well. Some hotels are so big, the local guys can't meet that sort of demand, and it's just not possible to partner."
OLS also manages Plantation Hale Suites in Kapaa and Banyan Harbor Resort in Lihue, vacation ownership properties on Kauai, which will mostly operate as they previously have, Robinson said.
"We don't want to participate in every opportunity that comes up, we want to be selective," Robinson said. "We have an office of four people in Honolulu so we want to grow the company thoughtfully. We'll be looking at both ownership and management opportunities as we go forward."
Correction: OLS Hotels and Resorts manages Plantation Hale Suites and Banyan Harbor Resort on Kauai; a previous version of this article stated that the company owned the properties.