HB ON THE SCENE: CEO Kirk Kinsell Discusses Loews’ Outlook

When industry veteran Kirk Kinsell decided to depart his long-time hospitality home at IHG last year, giving up the title of president and CEO, The Americas, for the same title at Loews Hotels and Resorts this year, many industry observers were perplexed why an executive of his caliber would make such a move after 19 years. Largely, it came down to his forward-thinking philosophy of what could be next, and why not try something new?

Moving to New York City and Loews’ headquarters, that “new” is now five months old and Hotel Business sat with Kinsell recently to catch up and, indeed, see what’s next for the hotel company’s multibrand platform that includes Loews Hotels & Resorts, a leading brand in the upper-upscale and luxury categories; Loews Regency, within the luxury category; and The OE Collection, a management-based platform to support existing or newly built independent hotels, mostly upper-upscale and lifestyle properties.

Have you had to adjust your thinking in how you’ve approached your new position? Has anything changed regarding how you thought it would be? There’s been a strong confirmation in terms of the talent base that’s in our company. You look around the room and you’re used to people by a different name in similar capacities, so you need to adjust your interactions with people as part of just an onboarding experience… There’s a lot of energy in the business because people are excited not only for the new guy, but we’ve got a lot of great things going on at Loews Hotels [e.g., the Loews Chicago opening; a conversion of the San Francisco Mandarin Oriental that will yield a Loews Regency; and the formal signing of its first agreement for OE Collection]. It’s a high-energy, high-enthusiasm time.

Anything that’s surprised you? I don’t know that anything has surprised me. I think the benefit of an organization that has had such a long focus on this industry is a confirmation again of [its]commitment over time. I am used to spending a great deal more time in the socialization and underwriting of projects, writing papers, doing decks and all those other kinds of things. In this case, it’s a casual but focused conversation, and we’re able to make quick decisions and, as a small company, be very nimble and able to move forward. I guess that’s been more of a new thing for me, and a pleasant surprise. I’ve just got to make sure that I can move as quickly as everyone else can.

The acquisition of the Mandarin Oriental in February was obviously an important one. What kind of a lift do you feel it’s going to give to the portfolio? There’s a multi-point answer to that. It gives a lift to us as an organization, as we were able to take something that was kind of under our nose—the Loews Regency in New York—and create a brand and an opportunity for forward growth called Loews Regency. People are very proud of the San Francisco hotel because of the quality of the asset, the location, how it fits so nicely into that marketplace, particularly into the commercial center of San Francisco, similar to how the New York property does. It gave a great deal of confidence and lift to the organization and to a broader set of stakeholders that had done business with us over time. Our guests at the Loews Regency New York are excited about the fact that, now, when they travel to San Francisco, they have a place to stay. The travel arrangers and group contacts, they’re excited by that, too. Having a location in San Francisco is a complement to our San Diego and our Hollywood/Santa Monica locations; that helps the North-South travel. We’re feeling business is being created as a result of having that network… It presents another opportunity for knowledge about Loews Hotels and Loews Regency.

This is about the eighth acquisition Loews has done in some 30 months. Is this the type of pace you see continuing? We’ve got three platforms for growth: Loews Hotels & Resorts, Loews Regency and OE Collection. With each one of them, we have an opportunity in terms of what’s available in the market and what we can create within the marketplace. Using an acquisition strategy as we have will be an important lever in terms of the growth of any one of those three platforms. Also, development will be an important element of growth, primarily in Loews Hotels, secondarily in Loews Regency, and maybe one or two developments in OE Collection, although most of those will be existing [properties]or adaptive-reuse projects. A lot of the product we see out there isn’t really very well built or well designed. If it is, frankly, it’s not available. It’s either not for sale or, if it is, it’s encumbered by somebody else’s brand. So, rather than buy something in a market that is a compromise to what we know to be the right kind of facility to deliver the right kind of experience, we’d rather build it ourselves. In markets today, where you can see replacement costs being actually less than acquisition, why not get what you want?

Let’s talk a little bit about OE Collection. Other major hotel companies have been coming out in the past months with soft brands, collections, etc., and touting their launches. Loews has been low-key about OE, and even is adding the first OE Collection property—Bisha Hotel & Residences—outside the U.S., in Canada. Why this direction? Canada is a very important destination, and Toronto is an important North American city. It could have been another important city in North America, whether Montreal, New York, Miami [or]Chicago. It happened to be Toronto. Why? There’s a connection. One of the developers/owners in that project is a partner of ours. It’s a very, very successful restaurant company called Ink Entertainment and it operates our restaurant in Montreal [at the Loews Vogue Hotel]. It was a connection that was made, a relationship that we enjoy, a partnership we were able to create on a project that’s going to be quite transformational for the entertainment district of Toronto. It will be iconic when completed about a year from now.

How and where will OE Collection grow? We expect OE Collection will be more management contract than necessarily our own invested capital, although we’re working on a couple of deals where we would be a significant partner. This just happened to come earlier than some of the other deals we’re working on, but certainly New York, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, Charleston [SC], San Francisco. All of those markets are potentially OE Collection markets.

Do you have any agreements signed? There are a lot of things that are in the pipeline. 

Stefani C. O’Connor