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WELCOME TO THE HOTEL STANLEY BALDWIN
By Michael Matthews
February 23, 2012 -- Worried about finding a bed on the road this year? Don't be. Wherever in this world you are going, there's going to be a bed available. After all, half of the 4.8 million guestrooms in America are empty just now and there seem to be thousands of new lodging properties in the global pipeline.
How do I know? STR, which was called Smith Travel Research before it lost everything but its initials, is pretty good at crunching hotel numbers and peering into the lodging pipeline. According to its research:
Almost 70 hotels with about 11,000 rooms will be opening in Central and South America this year.
About 500 hotels with 130,000 rooms are in the pipeline for the Middle East and Africa.
More than 850 hotels with nearly 140,000 rooms are under construction in Europe.
The Asia/Pacific region is really booming, with nearly 1,500 hotels and 360,000 rooms in the pipeline. (Well, not in an actual pipeline, you understand. I wouldn't stay in a hotel room you could fit into a pipeline.)
Of course, I have slightly higher lodging standards than three-letter research firms. I don't like counting Motel 6s and the like. My life and career really have trained me to seek out the deluxe end of the hotel spectrum. You know, the kind of places where you can't see pipelines from your window.
And while I don't always understand the criteria of the reviewers at HotelChatter.com--they try so hard to be hip that I sometimes wish that a few of them would book themselves into a pipeline--that site seems interested in only about 225 of those new hotels.
New York, for example, has 10 openings hip enough to merit HotelChatter's time. Well, nine, unless you include the Hotel BPM in Brooklyn. I had no idea what BPM stands for, but the hotel's Web site says it means "beats per minute." BPM was supposed to open last summer, then last fall, and now it's supposed to open its doors sometime this year. Lots of luck finding out any other information on the Web site. There are no pictures, no text, only a link to a few puffy "news" stories and a place where you can give them your E-mail address. Who knows, maybe they'll mail you back a beat or two...
Besides a couple of Hyatts and a new Conrad, some of the other new properties in New York are called Out, Nomad and Gem. I don't see myself sleeping in a hotel call "Out." In defense of opening new hotels in New York, it is the strongest lodging market in North America and can comfortably handle the invasion.
In Miami, where hotel occupancy runs level with real estate foreclosures, there are six openings planned. One of the new properties is called Lord Balfour. Why name a hotel in Miami's Art Deco district after an early 20th-century British Prime Minister whose only real claim to fame is the Balfour Declaration is beyond my comprehension. Maybe someone in the English seaside town of Brighton should open a hotel called the William Howard Taft or the Calvin Coolidge. Of course, Taft and Coolidge don't have declarations named after them, so maybe that wouldn't work.
Elsewhere in the United States, you might want to know that a Hotel Indigo is opening in Waco, Texas. HotelChatter thought you might.
If we flit over to Europe, it seems as if London will have the most notable new openings. None of the 14 new hotels are named after a prime minister, but that's not too critical in London, where every third property is already named after a British PM. Besides, do you really want to stay at the Campbell-Bannerman or the Stanley Baldwin? Those seem to be the only prime ministers who don't yet have hotels named after them.
Among London newcomers are the Bulgari, a hotel called Z that calls itself "the urbanite stay" and something called a ME by Melia. There's a new InterContinental in Westminster, a rather nice location, and a Hilton in Wembley, which is rather like being located in Brooklyn. All these openings are in the name of the Olympics, I guess. Sadly, I expect a number of closures, also in the name of the Olympics.
Four Seasons and Fairmont are both due to open hotels on Lake Baku in Azerbaijan this year. These, too, seem to be in the name of the Olympics. Baku bid unsuccessfully for the 2016 Summer Olympics and is bidding again for the rights to the 2020 games. Maybe they'd have better luck if they named one of the hotels after Tony Blair. After all, he helped get the Olympics for London and London is no less bizarre a location than Baku when you think about it.
The Middle East has 20 openings of note this year, all of the five-star variety. The area is about to be loaded with empty Ritzs, St Regises, Fairmonts and Hiltons. I am glad I didn't invest in any of them. I read somewhere that the Government of Dubai ordered all hotels in the Emirates to shutter half of the rooms so that occupancy rates look 50 percent better than they actually are. It may not be true, wink, wink.
As you might expect, China leads the way with 46 openings that HotelChatter finds noteworthy. The groups you'd recognize: Four Seasons, InterContinental, Sheraton, Westin. It's the cities that you might not recognize: Hanjiang, Fuzhou, Luohe. Get your map out.
Then lend it to the bankruptcy lawyers. They may be very busy in the next few years.
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2012 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2012 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.