Hyatt's David Tarr on plans for the Thompson chain

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In 2018, Hyatt added brands such as Thompson, Alila and Joie de Vivre to its fold with its takeover of Two Roads Hospitality. Last spring, Hyatt established a separate lifestyle hotels division to oversee those brands as well as the Andaz and Hyatt Centric flags. Hotels editor Christina Jelski caught up with David Tarr, Hyatt's senior vice president of development, to talk about expansion plans for Thompson and opportunities for soft brands in today's challenging environment.

David Tarr
David Tarr

Q: Hyatt has announced quite a few new Thompson projects in recent weeks, including plans for properties in Savannah and Buckhead, Ga., and in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. What makes these Southern U.S. markets prime locales for Thompson, and where else is Hyatt looking to plant its lifestyle flags?

A: We just happen to be particularly focused on those Southern markets currently, but in truth, the focus for the brand is top metro areas and, to some degree, leisure markets, as well. They're all markets consistent with what we look for when it comes to Thompson, which are urban locations with both a strong business transient and leisure element. You can consider pretty much the top 25 U.S. metro areas as markets where if we don't currently have a Thompson, we're trying to identify locations there. And we're looking beyond the U.S., as well. 

In terms of our other lifestyle brand expansion plans, we've got an Alila, which has predominantly been focused in Asia, opening in Marea Beach in Encinitas, Calif., as well as another Alila project we're not quite ready to announce in a top leisure destination in the U.S. With Andaz, we've got Toronto well under construction as well as Turks and Caicos. And then Centric is making great progress, with markets from Portland, Ore., to Alexandria, Va., opened and Minneapolis recently converted. 

Q: Has Hyatt's lifestyle expansion strategy changed because of the pandemic? And are you tempering your near-term outlook for the higher-end lifestyle segment?

A: A lot of our Thompson projects were in the pipeline well before the current Covid-19 situation. But we have to be thinking beyond Covid, toward a time when people are getting back to travel. We certainly hope these hotels open post-vaccine, because then they'll ramp up quicker than they might otherwise ramp up if we're still in our current situation. But we're confident that we're going to get beyond this. And our objective has always been to be very, very targeted in how we grow. We're not trying to dominate competitors in respect to scale. And there are definitely challenges we're all facing as an industry today in regard to financing for new projects. Because of Covid-19, there's going to be fallout from the pipeline. There will be a lot of projects that maybe shouldn't have been done that won't get financed. But I would say that the vast majority of our pipeline and our projects have really distinguished themselves based on concept, location and brand, and most of the projects in our pipeline are ones that will eventually get financed. We benefit from having some very well-articulated lifestyle hotel brands.

Q: What's the latest update on Hyatt's soft brand collections, including Joie de Vivre?

A: We actually have three independent collections, and each of them has a distinct swim lane, with Destination being resort-oriented and the Unbound Collection and Joie de Vivre being more urban in nature. But while Unbound Collection tends to be upper upscale to luxury and often features adaptive reuse of historic buildings, Joie de Vivre is more in the upscale to upper upscale space and has more flexibility in design. Joie de Vivre is actually a huge focus for us right now, because we see a great opportunity for independent lifestyle hotels globally that perhaps previously didn't really see the need to have the support of a major global brand company like ours. They're now seeing the benefits of perhaps having a little bit of support. And when it comes to these types of collections, it can be advantageous to be smaller than your peer set. Because when we have those conversations about Joie de Vivre or Unbound, owners like to know that if they're going to affiliate, they're not going to be eight pages down on Hyatt.com in their particular market, for example. They want to be more visible. Having fewer hotels in many markets, because of our targeted approach to development, offers some strong appeal for these brands in terms of affiliation. 

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