By Peter Mitham
TORONTO – Canada is in line for the next wave of expansion as Cambria Hotels scales up its operations in the U.S. and begins to look abroad.
“Originally launched in 2005, the momentum behind this upscale brand continues to build and developers are clearly taking notice as evidenced by our healthy pipeline,” said Mark Shalala, senior vice-president of upscale development for Choice Hotels, which owns Cambria Hotels.
Shalala said there are now 52 hotels flying the Cambria flag in the U.S., with 27 more under construction. These include properties opening early this year in Napa and Sonoma (90 rooms and 135 rooms, respectively). Construction began last year on a 180-room hotel in downtown Los Angeles as well as a 121-room property northwest of the core in Malibu Canyon that will open in mid-2020. An additional 80 properties are in various stages of development, putting Cambria within sight of the 100-hotel mark it wants to hit before taking the brand international.
However, legwork is already being done by Scott Lockwood, regional vice-president of development, Western U.S. and Western Canada with Cambria Hotels. Some early conversations have already taken place, laying the foundation for new development when the time is right.
“A natural progression for the brand is to eventually expand into some of the top markets across Canada,” Shalala told Canadian Lodging News. “Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Calgary are established feeder markets to U.S. markets where Cambria is located and could provide strong opportunities for the brand.”
According to its year-end financial report, Choice Hotels has allocated up to US$725 million to grow the Cambria Hotels brand. The investment is driven by what the company describes as guests’ desire for unique experiences tailored to the specific market they’re visiting.
“Guests truly want to experience the location they are travelling to,” Shalala explained. “Developers really love the flexibility Cambria provides by allowing them to ‘design to their market,’ making each Cambria unique by pulling what is cool, unique, local and relevant about their location through the hotel during the design process and allowing the guest to experience it.”
Cambria says it spends a lot of time exploring each market where it invests, researching materials and local design styles so that each hotel is a sympathetic reflection of the city. This extends to guest amenities as well as a craft beer program overseen by its own certified Cicerone, or beer sommelier. It describes the optimal experience for guests as being one where, “every stay feels like an upgrade.”
Choice says the financial commitment it’s allocated to brand development will support “joint-venture investments, forgivable key-money loans, senior mortgage loans, development loans and mezzanine lending.” The goal is to recoup the money within five years of investment, an aggressive program that reflects its optimism.
“Choice has committed corporate capital to grow the Cambria brand, and bring the best possible hotels to the right markets faster,” a corporate backgrounder notes.
Those markets are typically centrally located urban sites. Many allow the company to take advantage of older properties in emerging neighbourhoods. “Our adaptive reuse strategy helps bring hotels to markets where land is at a premium,” the backgrounder notes.
Where the future prospects look good but current conditions are unfavourable, properties may be added to a land bank with a view to development when the time is right. The result is an ongoing, affordable supply of development opportunities that positions the company for growth as the travel market evolves.
“This has allowed our owners to drive rates and deliver the authentic local experience that guests are looking for,” Shalala said. “We’re able to achieve all this within a cost-effective prototype that drives ROI for our owners.”