For Omni Hotels & Resorts, a lot has changed in two years. At the end of 2020, in the depths of the Covid crisis, the company was forced to close its 398-room Omni Berkshire Place hotel in midtown Manhattan. While Peter Strebel, then-president of Omni, was hesitant to call the closure permanent, he did not “expect it to open anytime in the near future”. Flash-forward to this summer, however, and not only has the Omni Berkshire Place been open since November, but the property is also seeing both occupancy and rates rise. Hotel Editor Christina Jelski recently spoke with Strebel, now chairman of Omni, at Berkshire Place for a company-wide update.
Q: How is it to be here in New York, at a property that was once in danger of closing permanently but now seems to be thriving?
A: Morale at the hotel is so positive right now. And from a tourist and business travel point of view, it’s very strong here, and we’re starting to take groups. Fall will be the main thing, but in this area business travel is returning, mainly thanks to financial services companies like JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, etc. They have been very firm with their employees when it comes to saying, “Go back to work.” And then, we see a lot of consulting firms doing training. So I think overall this year is going to be a good year for the hotel.
Q: As activity rebounds across the portfolio this summer, have you seen a noticeable shift in consumer behavior?
A: People travel more in packs. We have noticed that at most of our resorts, our suites sell out before our regular rooms because people want a common space for family or friends. It was a trend we were starting to see happening before the pandemic, but we’re seeing it even more now.
In my day, you sort of left with your immediate family or your spouse and that was about it. But for the younger generations, it’s more about small group travel. And that impacts how we think about designing our properties. Take this hotel, for example. I sat in the restaurant and it was packed. And everyone was seated six or eight places. But they had to put the tables together because the restaurant is made up of two and four trays. So we’re going to be creating restaurants that have bigger spaces, and we’re also going to be putting in more suites and bigger rooms in our properties. At our Omni PGA Frisco Resort, which is opening [near Dallas next spring], we’re adding 10 four-bedroom Texas ranch-style homes. These will be for groups of golfers getting together, weddings and other occasions. And we are already booking them.
Q: Besides the Omni PGA Frisco Resort, are there any other notable expansions in the pipeline?
A: We are working on a project in Punta Mita, Mexico. We are still finalizing the architectural plans and the landscaping, but we will probably innovate next summer. And we are also working on a few other projects at the moment. We stay in the resort space, but we also stay in the convention hotel space. We are currently working with two cities looking to expand their convention centers and add a hotel. And we also invest a lot of money in our existing hotels.
Q: For hotels, it’s been a summer of pent-up demand and high rates. What are your longer-term prospects for the coming year?
A: I think next year we will see a stabilization. I now get letters from clients who say, “We normally go on cruises, but we decided to go to Omni Barton Creek [in Austin, Texas,] for a week instead.” But I think next summer those customers will be cruising. And while I don’t think the fares are going to go up, I don’t think they’re going to go down; I think they’re going to level off. Finally, Omni as a collective brand has typically been around 74% occupancy. Last year we were at 40% occupancy. This year we’ll probably be at 60%. So , we still have a long way to go.