HB ON THE SCENE: La Quinta’s New CEO Sees Strength in Numbers

LAS VEGAS—If there was any concern among the estimated 1,500 attendees here at this year’s La Quinta Inn & Suites annual conference that the lodging chain had lost any momentum following the departure last year of its long-time leader, Wayne Goldberg, it was quickly wiped away by the public company’s new President/CEO Keith Cline, who presented an overall positive performance picture that is expected to be maintained this year.

“Last year, La Quinta demonstrated the many strengths of our business. We continue to execute our significant unit-growth opportunity, deliver strong and consistent free cash flow, demonstrate the efficiency of our owner/operator franchise business model and unlock value from our balance sheet,” said Cline, who was helming his first conference after serving as La Quinta’s EVP/CFO since 2013.

“Interest in developing and operating under the La Quinta brand remains very strong,” he added, noting the company signed 37 new franchise agreements in Q4 for an aggregate total of 107 for the year. “Which is the highest number of agreements signed in any year since 2008,” he said.

The company also captured another market in its quest to be in all 50 states, adding its first location in Alaska, leaving only Delaware and Hawaii on the check-off list.

The chain opened 47 hotels representing some 4,000 rooms for the year.

The CEO cited projects in higher-RevPAR locations, including New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Utah and Oregon. “And, we took an important step forward in our international development with key agreements for the development of 10 new locations in Mexico,” said Cline.

The company also is doing a sea change in that country and other Latin American locations, creating a distinct brand name for both existing and planned hotels. Properties in Mexico will be known as LQ Hotel by La Quinta, which, executives indicated, is better understood than the Inn & Suites descriptor. In countries where there are trademark issues around usage of the term La Quinta, which is a common phrase in use in many Latin American locations, according to EVP.Chief Development Officer Rajiv “Raj” Trivedi, properties will be known as LQ Hotel. 

The CEO noted, at year’s end, there were 228 La Quinta projects representing more than 20,000 rooms in the overall pipeline, also the highest amount since 2008.

Stefani C. O’Connor

(Catch more coverage of the La Quinta conference in HB’s next issue, available March 21.)