NEWTON, MA—In recent years, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation has been keeping its head down, focusing much of its attention inwardly. Awake from its five-year hibernation, the hospitality company is ready to share its story—the entire story.
“We pride ourselves on delivering to our guests a real sense of place,” said Sonesta President and CEO Carlos Flores. “Many companies say that—or something similar—but we invest a lot of focus, energy and resources to make sure that everyone in the organization rallies around and supports the creation of true localized experiences.”
Sonesta takes cues from surrounding areas when building or renovating properties; this keeps its properties aligned with what’s going on locally. The company also examines local F&B concepts to determine what could inspire or even delight its guests. Sonesta believes this attention to detail has contributed to its overall guest growth.
“Our focus is on guest experience and delivering the best-in-breed for our guests,” Flores said. “Last year, we had 92% of the U.S. portfolio recognized with a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. This year, several hotels worldwide received Travelers’ Choice awards. We led the Market Metrix Hospitality Index hotel brand ranking with an 86.1 last year.”
Sonesta currently offers 77 properties in seven countries. Fifty-five properties are located within the U.S.; five can be found in Egypt (this includes two hotels and three cruise ships); two are in St. Maarten; and another 15 are situated across South America.
Sonesta has several brands within its portfolio: Royal Sonesta Hotels; Sonesta Hotels & Resorts; Sonesta ES Suites; Sonesta Posadas del Inca; and Sonesta Cruise Collection.
“Our recent growth has been mostly opportunistic with our capital partnerships,” Flores said. “We have identified a few cities that remain key to our overall domestic acquisition strategy. Internally, we have a very strong strategic operating partner in GHL Hoteles for expansion via a master franchise agreement in South America. Depending on the brand the hotel is considered for, we have several criteria we seek beyond the financial opportunity making sense.”
For instance, take Royal Sonesta and Sonesta Hotels & Resorts. For these brands in particular, the hospitality group favors properties greater than 200 keys with more than 45 sq. ft. of meeting space per key. On the other hand, for Sonesta ES Suites (its extended-stay offering) the company considers properties with more than 100 keys and favors portfolio deals of five-plus hotels.
“Practically speaking, we are a five-year-old start-up company with a storied 80-year history in hospitality,” he said. “The company’s rapid growth began in 2012 when there were just three Sonesta hotels in the U.S. Within the first six months of that year, we converted 21 hotels into Sonesta, and conceived and brought to market the Sonesta ES Suites brand. Since then, we’ve doubled in size domestically, while adding new destinations internationally.”
The “typical guest” doesn’t exist for Sonesta. “Our hotels (98% will have been recently renovated by year-end) provide opportunity outside of the room to congregate; get work done; host a meeting; and feel like a local—really reacting to the way business gets done and what our guests are asking for,” Flores said. The company’s customers are made up of business people, couples, families and more. In fact, Sonesta believes its guests more often than not wear multiple hats when they’re experiencing its properties.
Even though Soneta doesn’t claim to have a “typical guest,” it does push its meetings business, pitching its hotels as “built for meetings.” When it comes to event planning, Sonesta’s Meeting Planner Advisory Council (MPAC), made up of industry executives, helps with keeping the hotel company ahead of the curve on industry needs and more.
“All of our hotels offer meeting space, from a simple board room at the Sonesta ES Suites, to the 60,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space at The Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta in St. Louis,” Flores said.
Sonesta’s culture revolves around caring. “We’re entrepreneurial—building our brands and the company as we continue to grow,” he said. “Our opportunities for internal growth encourage the right team members to to grow with us as they advance their careers.”
Expanding its team is imperative to the company’s overall growth. “Our employees are key to our success,” he said. “We look at the dutiful management of human capital as being as important, if not more so, than any other we manage. We are fanatical at the measuring and interpretation of our competency, but retention, although an important measure, is a ‘lagging indicator,’ and we place much great focus on predictive measures such as engagement and overall job satisfaction.”
Aware of how employees have contributed to its success, Sonesta stresses the importance of creating an environment where leaders can internally thrive. “Hiring the right employees, cultivating a caring culture and providing them with the tools for success has been the blueprint for the foundation we have created over the last five years,” he said. “Until recently, we’ve been hyper-inwardly focused—hiring the right people, building the right infrastructure, and getting the right foundation into place.” This had been the group’s strategy for the past five years or so.
Sonesta’s efforts seem to be paying off. “In fact, according to our employee engagement surveys, 90% of our new hires already feel like they are part of the team on their 90-day survey responses,” Flores said. The hospitality company also found out the following: 76% of past employees are likely to recommend employment with Sonesta.
Now, Sonesta’s focus has shifted somewhat. “It wasn’t until very recently that we started to lift our heads up and share our story,” he said. Going forward, the hotel company’s story will revolve around its future and where it plans on taking its brands next.
“In 2018, we will have 20 hotels under active renovation in the U.S., including the portfolio of 14 extended-stay hotels that joined our Sonesta ES Suites brand last fall,” Flores said. “The Clift in San Francisco became a Royal Sonesta earlier this month, and we have renovation plans already underway at Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Baltimore, Silicon Valley, CA, and St. Louis. We introduced our first dual-brand hotel in late 2017 in Atlanta—with the introduction of the Sonesta ES Suites Gwinnett Place to the existing Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta.
“It is with some excitement that we look to St. Maarten reopening early next year after rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Irma. We also have several new hotel destinations in the pipeline, both domestically and internationally,” he said. HB