Tourism & Cruises

Want to build a hotel in Latin America? First head to Miami

This rendering shows the front desk area for a Homewood Suites in Latin America.
This rendering shows the front desk area for a Homewood Suites in Latin America.

For its planned expansion into Latin America and the Caribbean, Homewood Suites by Hilton is creating model spaces for developers to pore over — in Miami.

The rooms are under construction now in an office building near Hilton Worldwide’s corporate headquarters for Latin American development in Miami, with plans to show them off this summer to developers and international media.

“Miami was the No. 1, unanimous location from all of our development team on where to build the new model rooms,” said Bill Duncan, global head of Hilton’s extended-stay brands. “We have a lot of developers coming into Miami for a variety of different reasons.”

The decision is an example of the importance of South Florida to the hospitality industry in the Caribbean and Central and South America, on full display this week during a back-to-back of conferences that kicked off in downtown Miami Monday.

Organizers expect between 350 and 400 people to attend each event — the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit, which ends Tuesday, and the Hotel Opportunities Latin America conference, which runs from Tuesday until Thursday.

Investors, owners, lenders and developers from those regions are expected to attend the events and mingle with hotel chains, management companies, bankers, financial advisers and others in the hospitality business. California-based Burba Hotel Network, which puts on lodging-related events around the world, produces the conferences.

“Miami is kind of the gateway city for Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Jonathon S. Zink, BHN’s managing director. “Also Miami serves as the ideal location for both CHRIS and HOLA because it’s not one specific Caribbean or Latin American country.”

Hotel chains see potential in Latin America because so many lodgings are independent or family-run, experts say.

“Latin America as a region is fairly under-penetrated with respect to branded hotels,” said Mark Lunt, who leads the hospitality practice at Ernst & Young in Miami.

With the 2016 Olympic Games coming to Brazil, Lunt said many Latin American countries are expecting a boost in tourism demand. Hotel companies have been looking to meet some of that demand, he said, and using Miami as a testing ground to introduce their brands to travelers from those countries.

“Miami is a perfect opportunity to appeal to the business traveler, the leisure guest: Here’s what we are and why you should give us business,” said Lunt, who will interview four CEOs as part of the HOLA conference on Wednesday. “It’s a great testing ground and opportunity to appeal to a wide base of customers in one geography.”

Homewood plans to use existing properties in Miami to interest developers along with the model rooms. Tours will include the model suites, lobby and reception areas along with a Homewood Suites location in the Brickell area scheduled to open this summer.

The upscale extended-stay brand launched its new prototype for Latin America in January with some differences from existing properties in the U.S. and Canada after realizing that space is tighter in markets such as Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.

“In order to escalate the timeline and get more deals, we realized we had to create a more suitable prototype to the more urban opportunities that were present in Latin American and Caribbean markets,” Duncan said. The company created a framework that showed what the brand requirements were but could also be easily scaled and adapted to small sites.

The Latin American properties will also include a small bar and food service outlet to cater to corporate travelers.

Duncan said another Hilton brand, Hampton Inn, constructed model rooms in Sao Paulo in the past, but executives thought Miami would appeal to more potential partners.

“It just seems Miami is a destination that you’ll get more people to come to on a fairly regular basis,” he said.