It might not have been immediately apparent when Destination Hotels and Commune Hotels + Resorts joined forces to forge Two Roads Hospitality in 2016, but both portfolios illuminated a commitment to individuality, celebrating the locations of wherever they might plant their flags. With these two elements increasingly becoming high priorities for guests, the launch of Two Roads—which manages and operates the Alila Hotels and Resorts, Destination Hotels, Joie de Vivre Hotels, Thompson Hotels, and forthcoming tommie brands—was a smart move, amassing a collection of 85 hotels across seven countries with some $2 billion of property revenues under management. After two years of restructuring and fine-tuning, the Denver, Colorado-based global lifestyle, multibrand hotel company, guided by CEO Jamie Sabatier, is making waves.
“You had two companies with pretty successful histories: the urban Commune, and Destination with the resort focus. We brought these two companies together by taking advantage of those different successes,” says Sabatier. “2016 was a year of organization and 2017 was a year of optimization and unifying the company—one purpose, one set of values, one management team.”
Sabatier should feel confident looking to 2018. Last year, Two Roads gained a significant four points a share, expanded its presence in North America and Asia, and currently flaunts “the strongest pipeline we’ve ever had,” he says. Passionate teams from Destination and Commune also found synergy, which Sabatier deems his biggest asset: “We’re not going to grow so quickly that we crumble because we have a strong foundation of culture, people, and values.” Much of Two Roads’ success can be attributed to distinct brand personalities. Todd Wynne-Parry, executive vice president of global acquisitions and development, says the first crucial step for Two Roads was ensuring that each of the brands and their promises was well defined.
Jason Pomeranc, cofounder of Sixty Hotels, first unveiled Thompson Hotels with his brothers and father in 2001. A decade later, it merged with the Chip Conley-founded, Geolo Capital-owned Joie de Vivre (JDV) to operate under Commune Hotels + Resorts. Since the debut of Two Roads, Thompson Hotels, with many of the original properties dropping from the portfolio (now under Pomeranc’s Sixty Hotels), has emerged as the company’s luxury lifestyle brand. JDV, on the other hand, is a collection of urban boutique properties. “We had to refine those brands and make sure we weren’t overlapping too much. Thompson is more sophisticated and JDV more playful,” Wynne-Parry explains. “We wanted JDV to be a smaller, more intimate experience, part of the fabric of the neighborhood. With Thompson, people expect a certain level of quality but still wink to the local market.”
Like JDV, Destination Hotels is a soft brand, with a focus on converting existing product to the collection. Mostly found in resort settings, each hotel has its own standards, bespoke to the particular location. The calming, sustainable-minded Alila (cofounded by Mark Edleson in Singapore in 2001 and acquired by then-Commune in 2015), adds Wynne-Parry, symbolizes ultimate luxury, “but it’s not cookie-cutter like some of the big brands.” Finally, slated to open in Hollywood in 2020 is the much-anticipated micro-lifestyle hotel concept tommie, catering to the youthful, curious traveler. Tommie, says Jorge Treviño, executive vice president of brand operations, has evolved from when plans were first hatched more than five years ago, and emphasizes the idea of essentialism: “It’s clean, it’s not overindulgent. Hopefully, it will catapult the brand to dense urban markets like Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Shanghai, and London.”
After 2016’s integration and platform stabilization, 2017 saw “great traction on our brands, and we did a number of deals to grow the company,” says Wynne-Parry. “The market is changing, so our outlook on growth has adjusted. There’s a slowdown in supply, but the supply that’s coming in and growing is luxury.”
Expectations high, Sabatier is aiming to better leverage technology, rolling out a proprietary CRM system this year to provide more personalized experiences to guests. “I’m a realist and complacency is the death knell of a company,” he says. “Everything we’re doing is to challenge ourselves to get better, continue to innovate, and never be satisfied with where things are today.”
2016 saw a handful of buzzy openings for Thompson in Seattle, Nashville, and the Beekman in New York, says Treviño, which made it “such an in-demand brand.” Thompson Seattle, by local architect Olson Kundig, Toronto’s Studio Munge, and Redmond, Washington-based Jensen Fey Architecture, blurs the indoors with the out. This is a contrast to the 19th-century office building local GKV Architects and London and New York-based Martin Brudnizki Design Studio transformed into the Beekman with its striking skylight-capped atrium, or the Thompson Nashville, which brings modern Music City vibes to the Gulch neighborhood through the handiwork of local firm Hastings Architecture Associates and New York-based Parts and Labor Design, which is currently working on a Thompson in Washington, DC’s Navy Yards.
These differences all exemplify Thompson’s powerful design capabilities, but what marries this collage of aesthetics is top-notch service. Thompson “used to be a guy’s playground known for rooftops. We have this beautiful, sexy brand with an urban edge, now let’s concentrate on service,” says Treviño. It was an essential shift for the brand. Christopher Alvarado, senior director of design and development services, says it is the quality of service that connotes luxury today. “When you check into a Thompson, they are going to know your name, what you like to drink, and where you want to eat,” he says.
With eight properties in its portfolio, Thompson works best in destinations that tend to have robust tech or arts scenes, Treviño says. What the brand also has a penchant for is adapting each hotel to the surrounding neighborhood. “Without the locals, we’re dead in the water,” says Alvarado. “We always want to make sure they feel a connection to the property, and in turn guests want to travel there. We don’t have a rewards system. We’re not the cheapest. People have to make a choice, and it’s our service, design, and culture that keep them coming back.”
Right now, Thompson is “invading Texas,” Alvarado says. First up, scheduled for early 2019, is Dallas, set in the circa-1960s First National Bank Building. Dallas firm Merriman Anderson Architects is working on the hotel and guestrooms—including suites that nod to TV show Dallas—and locally based Studio 11 Design is handling restaurants, including a 49th-floor perch with a 30-foot-long bar. At the end of 2019, Thompson San Antonio, located right on the Riverwalk, will debut with a Latin, midcentury air, courtesy of Houston-based Powers Brown Architecture and Guadalajara, Mexico-based Amass & G. A Houston location is set for a 2019 debut as well. London-based Tara Bernerd & Partners, the firm that handled Thompson Chicago, will spearhead the Thompson Hollywood, opening in 2019, with a midcentury California look that telegraphs Palm Springs.
Thompson loyalists crave elegant design without the pomp, says Alvarado, and as the brand continues to exude “a quiet confidence, it’s elevating the luxury category without being compared to the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carltons. Our guests have grown up.”
Joie de Vivre
A recent turning point in JDV’s narrative is the 2017 opening of the 229-room Hotel 50 Bowery, the brand’s maiden property in New York. The location has been intertwined with JDV’s ethos from the beginning, as the Chinatown neighborhood allowed New York firms Peter Poon Architects and Wimberly Interiors to play with a gritty, artistic backdrop. “We always strive to work with local teams because they can see what the neighborhood needs, lives, and breathes,” says Melissa Haft, senior director of design and development services. The heavy wood grain reception desk finished in resin, rough-hewn beams, and hand-troweled headboards call to mind industrial New York as much as the lobby lanterns referencing temples, porcelain, and touches of red speak to Chinatown’s Asian heritage, reinforced by a partnership with the Museum of Chinese in America. “If there isn’t a story to anchor it to, there is nothing for the guest to walk away with,” Haft explains.
Seven of JDV’s 18 properties are located in San Francisco, where the brand debuted in 1987, but it continues to push beyond its California roots. Consider the soon-to-open Hotel Revival in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, home to regal estates and the first Washington Monument. Local firm SM+P Architects and Philadelphia-based SLDesign are invigorating a Renaissance Revival residential building from 1929 with a vibrant rooftop hangout and details including glazed tiles, leaded windows, and parquet flooring. A mural depicting the forested area that once occupied the site proves that Hotel Revival is an ode to restoring community, says Haft.
This same convivial spirit is felt in the $20 million renovation of the 178-key Talbott in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Local designer Kara Mann, who usually works on residential spaces, opened up the lobby, adding a lounge and letting the restaurant flow throughout. Suites were carved into rooms to spike the key count from 149 to 178. It feels like a posh pied-à-terre “with a cheeky wink through artwork and a dramatic play on materials,” says Haft, putting that signature JDV whimsy on display. She adds: “It’s really about the heart and soul behind each property and making an individual connection to each of our guests. We want them to feel like it’s their own home and encourage discovery and curiosity through a layering of different elements and storytelling.”
San Francisco saw a number of recent revamps, including the 177-room Galleria Park, for which local firm BAMO infused the Financial District hotel with a residential feel, and a guestroom and lobby overhaul at the Laurel Inn by Tel Aviv-based Oren Bronstein. Most dramatic of the updates is Hotel Kabuki. This Japantown icon was renovated by New York-based MARKZEFF to feature traditional Japanese elements such as shibori-dyed headboards and finishes reminiscent of the charred shou sugi ban technique on cedar, as well as Japanese street art. The lobby, with its handtufted rug, large, historic map of San Francisco, and additional bar seating, has become a hotspot for socializing. Still to come on the West Coast is an intriguing dual-branded project with a Destination Hotel scheduled for 2020 in Oceanside, California that will be the largest beachfront development on the San Diego coastline in more than 20 years.
Destination Hotels, which debuted in 1972 and is now shedding its longtime reputation as a management company, is perhaps the most challenging of the Two Roads brands. With 29 properties and 11 residences across the States and the Caribbean, amongst them a number of well-regarded spas and golf courses, the Destination portfolio is a vast one, spanning oceanfront Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California (BAMO is behind the recent room refresh); the Quirk Hotel in downtown Richmond, Virginia, courtesy of local firm 3north and the Connecticut-based husband and wife team Poesis Design; the La Cantera Resort & Spa in Texas Hill Country from local firm Looney & Associates; and the luxurious redesign of Cliff House Maine in Cape Neddick from Burlington, Vermont’s TruexCullins and Cooper Carry of New York. Connecting the dots between such a motley group of properties is certainly “a hard nut to crack,” Treviño points out, “but we are making headway by creating brand touchpoints.” Capitalizing upon the best of each location is proving an asset to both unifying the brand and differentiating the hotels.
Shirli Sensenbrenner, senior vice president of design and construction for Two Roads, says that “playing up individuality and independence have always been in Destination’s DNA.” As the brand evolves, the goal becomes how to revel in the hotels’ differences while creating loyal customers of the brand. For Sensenbrenner, it begins with the little things like offering guests wine or desserts specific to that location to get the conversation started. “It’s all about the connections you make,” she says. “We like to interact with our guests.”
It’s an approach that is paying off. “Destination is probably the biggest resort brand in the U.S. right now, and well positioned for growth. 2017 RevPAR grew twice as fast as upper upscale and luxury,” says Wynne-Parry. For example, Two Roads recently announced that L’Auberge de Sedona and the neighboring Orchards Inn in Sedona’s Red Rock country would be joining the Destination Hotels collection.
Obviously, design is one effective way of enriching connections between Destination Hotels because it represents the locations in such a thoughtful manner, a driver for the brand. Take the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel & Conference Center in Arizona, which is undergoing a guestroom renovation this summer. Director of design for Two Roads Elizabeth Pavisha is working with Scottsdale-based Studio V to contemporize a classic Southwestern look.
In 2020, when Destination Hotels opens in Oceanside, California in tandem with the adjacent JDV property, San Diego-based Bill Bocken Architecture & Interior Design will have another opportunity to create a hotel’s personality inspired by its breezy environs. “For that couple in their 50s whose kids are gone and moved to the oceanfront, this is their villa,” says Sensenbrenner.
Alila Hotels and Resorts
Although the luxe Alila Hotels and Resorts was a familiar name to travelers from Asia and Australia, the Singapore-based company, which launched in 2001, was relatively unknown in the U.S. That started to change late last year when Ventana Big Sur, an Alila Resort and multimillion-dollar reimagination of the venerated circa-1975 Ventana Inn, opened. This first foray into North America is, says Frederic Flageat-Simon, CEO of Two Roads Hospitality Asia, “great for getting more people to understand and experience Alila.”
Led by Carmel, California-based Ray Parks & Associates and San Francisco-based BraytonHughes Design Studios, the renovation now features glampsites with safari-style canvas tents, as well as outdoor Japanese hot baths. “The beauty of the brand is how eco-driven it is in a quiet way. It’s just done right. From the food to the intent and the materiality to the construction, it’s such a beautiful, mysterious brand,” says Treviño.
One luxury yacht and 12 Alila properties—including the recently opened Alila Yangshuo, housed in a former sugar mill along the Karst mountains in China from Beijing-based Vector Architects and Shenzhen, China firm Horizontal Space Design—are open, but there are ambitious plans for 24 more, including the Neri & Hu-crafted Alila Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur; Alila Villas Koh Russey in Cambodia designed by StudioGoto Singapore; and Alila Koggala in Sri Lanka, courtesy of Bali-based NXST Architects and local firm Palinda Kannangara Architects.Malaysia, Vietnam, the Middle East, and a resort outside Shanghai are also on the docket. Alila SCBD in Jakarta, with a Hakkasan outpost and two Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurants, will merge the design talents of Bangkok firm IAW, New York-based Rockwell Group, and GBRH in Paris when it opens later this year. “The hotel is right in front of the Indonesia Stock Exchange. You can’t wish for a better location,” says Flageat-Simon, noting that this property is an example of an Alila city hotel. “Generally, they have big lobbies and are conceptualized as cool New York lifestyle hotels.”
Ventana’s success could also spark further properties in North America and South America. “We are a brand that is growing in value and represents what people are looking for, but we still have a lot to prove,” says Flageat-Simon. Although sustainable, local materials are celebrated at Alila properties, each hotel is different. “Sometimes brand standards are imposed when a destination doesn’t need it. There is a design sensitivity to our properties. You will always know it’s an Alila, but for every project, we write a storybook, and the storybook is based on our understanding of the destination, the market, and what we think is right for it,” he adds. “The one thing we don’t want is for Alila to be a static brand. It’s flexible in that we want to create a new story every time.”