Mixed Use Projects: The New Panacea for Stakeholders

Is there a business case for this multiple business model investment?

By S. Lakshmi Narasimhan Founder, Ignite Insight LLC | June 30, 2019

Stakeholders operate in an obsessive continuous growth nirvana state. For them, projects should be churning out incremental returns in all market conditions and at all times, never mind the seasonality of the hotel business. Having pumped in huge amounts of capital into projects, their psyche may well be justified.

However, reality is different and there is no choice but to embrace it. Customer preferences are incessantly changing, supply is on the increase and demand is under pressure. In this scenario, continuous growth cycles are a pipe dream. Is there a way out?

Vanilla Hotel Projects

In days of yore, traditional hotel projects (sometimes called vanilla projects) worked well. A combination of hotel accommodation and food and beverage business models brought home the bacon. The rooms and restaurant combination worked well. Rooms with an intrinsic ability to command upwards of 80% departmental profit were the bread and butter of hotel revenues. Restaurants with their much lesser departmental profits (from 30% to 50%), however produced traffic to the hotel. This combination worked excellently delivering good bottom line and generally keeping stakeholders happy. Over the latter part of this decade, millennial and Gen Z customer profiles have almost sounded a death knell to this vanilla project approach. How so?

The Saga of Stalling Returns

This potent mixture of young, mobile, urban customers have changed completely market segmentation techniques entrenched for about half a century. Their tastes and preferences have meant that traditional room and restaurant combinations are producing less incremental revenues and profits. This has manifested itself in falling room occupancies and plummeting average rates. In other words, the bottom line is dwindling and the returns stalling. Landmark trends like smaller hotel room numbers, shrinking room sizes and an obsession for personalized experiences has meant that the age old room restaurant model was slated to collapse.

Hotels being seasonal businesses tend to rely on peak month occupancies to boost bottom line. This means that even normally, the lean month periods are challenges to keep the sales graph from dipping too drastically. In a situation of steadily decreasing occupancies, a key chunk of peak period revenues and profits were disappearing. In this situation, a radical rethink of the rooms restaurant business model was imperative. The infusion of new areas of revenue generation and profit retention was a severe need. Enter the concept of mixed use projects.

What is Mixed Use?

In the context of traditional vanilla hotel projects consisting of rooms and restaurants, what is a mixed use project? A mixed use project brings in multiple sources of revenue from a business model which goes beyond rooms and restaurants. Art, culture, local artisan wares, entertainment, retail, recreation are some of the newer sources of revenue which form part of the mixed use project concoction.

So, you are now having the spectacle of retail displays, art and artisan wares in hotel lobbies, organic plants and vegetables grown in roof top restaurants and so on. It is a complete paradigm change and fueled by demands from the millennial and Gen Z customers. So, what is it that attracts owners and stakeholders to embrace this new phenomenon?

The Allure of Multiple Business Models (with Risks to Boot)

Owners are intrigued by having choices in their sources of revenue all built into one mixed use project. They seem to finally taking on board the "do not put all your eggs in one basket" principle. Multiple business models entail the outcome of different levels of revenue generation and profit retention. By adding, say a retail business model into the accommodation and restaurants, the mixed use project is allowing a totally different revenue source to operate. Retail business not only can generate a lot of foot traffic to the hotel project but also has excellent profit margin prospects. Of course, even in the retail business model, there are various levels.

For example, economy, midscale or upscale are generic categories that can come into play. Bringing in a reputed brand for retail or local crafts, organic produce etc. can provide that extra flavor that is a far cry from the monotonous rooms and restaurant models. Even restaurant models have taken a hit in this process. More restaurants are turning casual and bars are thriving spots to congregate which again drives traffic to the project.

Just to put things into perspective, a mixed use project with multiple business models is not entirely a rosy picture. With different business model behavior, revenue patterns and profit retention also undergo risks. So, it could both be a bouquet as well as a brickbat. When new revenue streams come in and take a different path to traditional models, they also disrupt bottom line behavior.

Mixed use projects tend to be huge undertakings considering that they consist of multiple business models. This means sustaining revenue generation and retaining precious bottom line becomes a challenge. Volumes will play a big part in this endeavor to earn year on year growth. Until the project generates what is known as critical mass, or the minimum volume for sustained profits, ROIs may be strained.

Retail as a Fresh Source of Revenue

The single most significant new addition to revenue sources in a mixed use project is the retail business. Retail business models operate vastly different from traditional accommodation and even restaurant models. Retail businesses almost always thrive on volumes. The introduction oftentimes of global brands into the cocktail that is a mixed use project creates an element that is critical to unit revenue sales. In other words, the revenue per square foot.

The entire real estate industry is founded on this revenue per square foot paradigm. So much so, that even in traditional vanilla hotel projects, this KPI has begun to make its presence felt. Of course, the exact extent of volume also depends upon the level of retail branding that is in place. For example,, are you a base level or economy retail brand, a midscale one or an upscale one.

What is retail claim to fame? Well, for one thing it generates the kind of foot traffic that very few other sources can boast of. It is also a fact that the retail model in recent times has undergone major changes and is no more only the apparel industry that it leaned on. Today retail may mean a beverage, lifestyle, local artisan work, bodegas and so on. This variety in retail offerings makes the attraction factor even more appealing. No wonder boutique hotel lobbies have started having art studios, coffee joints etc. mostly with a reputed brand behind them. The brand factor is another of the retail model's unique selling propositions.

Changing Restaurant Models

With retail providing that differentiated set of offerings, restaurants in mixed use projects and boutique hotels have been reinventing themselves. Gone are the short table turnover yielding fine dining and sit down meal periods. Instead casual dining has taken a lead and has even created casual versions of sit down cuisine. However, the area that has led this renaissance are the bars. Bars have created hot spots of foot traffic (taking a leaf out of the retail model), often times located on rooftops with live music and an electric atmosphere drawing crowds.

Bar food has morphed into innovative snacks and finger food accompanying the foundational alcohol offerings. Prices are kept tantalizingly affordable even while creating the volumes required for a solid profit margin. Millennials and Gen Z are social animals and these hotspots are the perfect venues to chill out.

Business Case for Mixed Use Projects

So, what is the business case for mixed use projects? To begin with, on a solid foundation of rooms accommodation, these projects have been innovating significantly. Right from room design, lighting, furniture all the way to room sizes have been changing. As for room sizes, these have been shrinking based on the paradigm of getting the guest out of the room and into communal spaces in the hotel. The concept of communal spaces has caught on virally and hotels generally have been attempting one-upmanship by reinventing communal space concepts.

With all of these innovations has come the concept of affordable luxury. This has redefined what luxury is as well as what affordable can be. A paradigm shift indeed. This shift has financial implications too. Customers are willing to pay premium prices for commensurate experiences. In a way, hoteliers have been thrown the gauntlet. If they can create unique personalized experiences, they can charge heftily for those too and that is acceptable.

The focus on retail has meant that once foot traffic had been generated volumes will spew out the margins after fixed costs are covered. Similarly, in bar inspired communal spaces, again, volumes will bring home the bacon.

In all, mixed use projects while being a significant capital investment had enough going for it in terms of revenue generation and profit retention ending up in good returns of investment. Something to make stakeholders smile all the way to the bank.

The Way Forward

What is the way forward? The future is indeed bright for mixed use projects. Buoyed by a young, sophisticated, urban demand base (millennials and Gen Z) which is willing to fork out big bucks if unique, personalized experiences are delivered, stake holders have been falling over themselves to jump on to this bandwagon which has long term implications for their return on investment.

On the one side constant innovation keeps the demand fertile and on the other, intelligent pricing keeps the bottom line thriving and happy. This is a heady cocktail that no self-respecting stakeholder will be willing to pass up.

Mr. Narasimhan S. Lakshmi Narasimhan is the Founder of Ignite Insight LLC a New York City based consultancy, which specializes in Group Executive Training, Coaching and Consulting. Prior to founding his company, Mr. Narasimhan was the Vice President Finance of an award winning Hong Kong headquartered luxury hotel chain - Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts. He has more than 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry (14 of them in a senior corporate level) and has held diverse portfolios from a hotel Financial Controller to a group level Human Resources position, head of Corporate Internal Audit and head of Corporate Financial Systems. His career is epitomized by new and challenging roles. S. Lakshmi Narasimhan can be contacted at 201-253-5000 or narasimhan@ignite-insight.biz Please visit http://www.ignite-insight.biz for more information. Extended Biography

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In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

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Coming up in August 2019...

Food & Beverage: Millennial Chefs Lead the Way

Led by Millennial chefs, hotels continue to foster sustainability, sourcing and wellness within their dining rooms and banquet spaces, and by all measures, this is responsible for an increase in their revenues. In many hotels, the food & beverage division contributes 50 per cent or more to hotel sales and they are currently experiencing double-digit growth. As a result, hotel owners are allocating an increasing amount of square footage for F&B operations. The biggest area of investment is in catering, which is thriving due to weddings, social events and business conferences. Hotels are also investing in on-site market or convenience stores that offer fresh/refrigerated foods, and buffet concepts also continue to expand. Other popular food trends include a rise of fermented offerings such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, kefir and pickles - all to produce the least processed food possible, and to boost probiotics to improve the immune system. Tea is also enjoying something of a renaissance. More people are thinking of tea with the same reverence as coffee due to its many varieties, applications and benefits. Craft tea blending, nitro tea on tap and even tea cocktails are beginning to appear on some hotel menus. Another trend concerns creating a unique, individualized and memorable experience for guests. This could be a small consumable item that is specific to a property or event, such as house-made snack mixes, gourmet popcorn, macaroons, or jars of house-made jams, chutneys, and mustards -all produced and customized in house. One staple that is in decline is the in-room minibar which seems to have fallen out of favor. The August issue of the Hotel Business Review will document the trends and challenges in the food and beverage sector, and report on what some leading hotels are doing to enhance this area of their business.