Deep dive with Felicity Black-Roberts, vice president, development, Europe and North Africa, Hyatt

With 45% of Hyatt Hotel Corporation’s 120 2022 openings located in the Europe, Middle East and African (EMEA) region, we caught up with the company’s vice president of development for Europe and North Africa to see if that pace will continue.

Felicity Black-Roberts is responsible for a regional pipeline currently exceeding 40 properties, but she is enthusiastically looking to add to that number.

Regional maturing

While she hopes that the 45% opening proportion will be sustained, she outlined: “Hyatt is getting more and more mature as a company in the EMEA region. We had relatively few hotels here compared to our competitors so over the last six to seven years there has been very deliberate organic growth to make sure our distribution is in the right places and that we’re creating a network in places that they want to visit.

“For instance back in 2016 we had no hotels in mainland Spain, so our focus has been on solving our distribution gaps, and we’ve done that.”

Lindner boost

Black-Roberts noted that last year was particularly strong for Hyatt in the region, detailing: “That’s due to a combination of elements including the Lindner Hotels & Resorts deal.”

The Lindner collaboration saw more than 30 hotels, comprising around 5,500 keys across seven European countries, from the German hospitality business joining the Hyatt portfolio under the Joie de Vivre (JdV) brand.

Current snapshot

Looking at this year’s picture, Black-Roberts analysed: “In terms of growth for Hyatt we are seeing many more people wanting to do business with us because our distribution is now much better. We’ve got the structures in place and that’s beneficial for owners, franchisees and guests.”

She also cited Hyatt’s 2020 acquisition of Apple Leisure Group as driving European momentum. “That gave us a resort presence, especially in the Mediterranean, that we couldn’t even have dreamt of,” she commented.

Plus the company’s 2022 buyout of fellow US-headquartered Dream Hotel Group also has the potential to generate EMEA opportunities for Hyatt. “Dream very strongly leverages food and beverage, which plays into one of our strengths as well,” said Black-Roberts. “Whenever we acquire a brand we tend to sit back, look at what that group does and then work out where it’s going to fit within Hyatt. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with Dream.”

Brand debuts

As well as the acquisitions increasing the regional momentum, Black-Roberts noted that the group is also pushing to debut additional lines: “We’ve introduced some really strong leisure brands like Thompson Hotels, and some of our soft brands have really resonated with the development community.”

The first European Thompson opened in Madrid earlier this year and forthcoming sites include Thompson Rome, a 70-room converted site taking shape within the Italian capital by Q3 2024, and Thompson Lamarr Vienna, bringing 149 keys to Austria in Q4 2024.

Conversion inclination

As to whether Hyatt is looking more towards newbuildings or conversions in EMEA, Black-Roberts responded: “Newbuilds are really tricky right now, so our newbuild pipeline is much more likely to be driven by a wider regeneration of an area, such as a government- or municipality-led project.

“So I think we’re going to find that newbuilds are going to be a bit more elusive for us. All we are seeing is a lot of conversions, such as office or retail properties, particularly in the UK.”

The eastern European area is another expansion target for Hyatt, with Black-Roberts reporting that conversions are also more likely here due to construction cost pressures.

Lifestyle potential

Regarding hotel segment prospects, she can see opportunities for the group’s lifestyle lines: “We’ve got a really strong stable of lifestyle brands. So JdV in the upper upscale segment is taking very joyful fun hotels and putting them into a collection brand, allowing owners to get their own character into the property.

“We’ve got some really nice examples of those storied hotels, nicely designed and well-positioned. Location-wise they’re slotting happily into all of the markets.”

Growth through franchising

As for whether Hyatt is focusing on any specific countries in the region for development, Black-Roberts summed up: “We’re still so underrepresented across the board so it’s difficult to say we’re targeting a particular country or city. I’m desperate for more sites in Scandinavia, southern Europe, everywhere!

“We’re quite reactive because that’s the nature of where we sit in the food chain. We’re not driving our growth through real estate, it’s through management partners and franchises. The important thing for us is to develop our relationships with owners and franchisees to make sure they understand what our brands are, what our brands mean and how they can add value. So when our owners make an acquisition or enter into a lease, we’ve already got that relationship there. It’s taken a long time to build that up.”

She concluded: “We’ve educated the development and franchise communities about who we are, what we are, and most importantly what we deliver. We’ve just launched our franchise organisation in Europe. – it’s a model we developed in the US and it’s a support mechanism for our franchisees. It’s important that we have that support for them: if they’re successful, we’re successful and vice versa.”