The Shrinking Terms of Hotel Management Agreements
Better Bargaining Position for Hotel Owners on HMAs
By Mark S. Adams Partner , Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP | December 21, 2014
Co-authored by Jim Bulter, Founding Partner, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP
The relationship between hotel owners and managers continues to evolve. Hotel management agreements historically were long-term. Fifty to sixty year terms were common. However, in the last few years, hotel owners have successfully negotiated shorter contract durations and other more favorable terms, even from the largest and most sought-after major brands. This trend is likely to continue and expand as brands realize that hotel owners have the power to terminate so-called no cut, long-term hotel management agreements, despite contrary provisions in the contract which courts now routinely ignore as a matter of public policy.
The Separation of Hotel Ownership From Hotel Operations
Trade, pilgrimage, conquest, and adventure have been the driving forces of travel since ancient times. For more than 5,000 years, accommodations for these travelers were provided by inns or monasteries. These lodging facilities were typically owned and operated by the same persons. That ownership pattern still exists today, particularly among mom-and-pop operations or small chains, but more and more, there is a separation of hotel ownership and hotel management.
This trend first gained traction when Kemmons Wilson started the first hotel franchising of Holiday Inns in the 1950s, and picked up momentum in the next couple of decades when hotel operators decided to move hotel real estate off their balance sheets with sale-leaseback transactions, and when hotel investors bought hotels and elected to lease their hotels to professional hotel operators. The separation of ownership and management continued and became the prevalent structure as hotel management agreements were developed in the 1970s and proliferated in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, particularly for larger, higher-end hotel properties.
But in the last ten or 15 years the franchise model has become the dominant one, at least by number of branded rooms, and particularly for the rapidly expanded extended stay and select service segments of the industry. Under this model, ownership is separate from branding, and usually a professional (unbranded) hotel management company is a surrogate for the brand.