by Joe Morris - (May 16-22, 2003) - Nashville Business Journal - ttp://nashville.bizjournals.com
Despite the hospitality industry's lingering doldrums, Chris Cargen's Hospitality America Inc. has picked up some recognition for performance.
The company, which manages 11 hotels in four states, recently topped the list of firms ranked by occupation in Hotel Business magazine's annual survey of the top 100 hotel management companies. It produced a combined 74.9 percent occupancy, while producing revenue of $29.3 million. That figure moved it from No. 96 to No. 83 in the magazine's annual revenue listing.
"In these times of reduced travel, we're very proud of that, " says Cargen, president and CEO of Hospitality America.
Cargen has seen both boom and bust times in the hotel business. After a stint in Georgia, he incorporated Hospitality America in 1995. The Brentwood-based company recently took over its eleventh hotel, a Hampton Inn® in Simpsonville, S.C., and now has 350 employees.
In that deal, Hospitality America took over from another management company, Cargen says, a departure from its usual practice of being in on a property from the very beginning.
"We've taken financial control, and now are doing an assessment to see who stays, who goes, " Cargen says. "We try to retain as many employees as we can. We have transferred an acting manager to another hotel so another general manager can evaluate him, see if he can be utilized in our company for future growth. We're looking for talent and growing ourselves."
The new property is the third Hospitality America will manage for Focus Investment Co. of Greenville, S.C., which retained the company six years ago.
"We have three properties with him now, and have been very happy." says Focus CEO Vivian Wong. "That's one reason we went to him when we got this property back."
Cargen also gets high marks from Bernard Wolfson, president of Hospitality Operations in Miami.
"I went into this aspect of the hotel business in 1996, and had worked with him several years ago on a property on Jekyll Island" in Georgia, Wolfson says. "When I told him I was going into the moderately priced hotel business, he came in and has done a great job."
Hospitality America manages five properties for Wolfson, all in the South Florida area. Cargen describes his firm as a boutique hotel company, in that it typically is involved in everything from site selection to a long-term management contract, with feasibility analyses, pre-marketing and fixtures and equipment purchases along the way.
Its contracts tend to run for five years with automatic rollover, and Cargen has yet to lose a property, something he attributes to being involved early on a project.
"Because we have been involved with all our hotels from the outset, we've had the ability to somewhat control the quality of the product," he says. "This has enabled us to achieve an occupancy and average rate, combined, of 30 percent higher that the average for the entire Hampton Inn® system. They're already considered one of the best occupancy chains to own, and we've produced higher revenue per available room than average."
The ongoing challenge for Cargen, like all hoteliers in today's market, is adjusting to the Internet.
"It's a difference in the channel, how hotels rooms are bought and sold," he says. "We're trying to get our hands around that."
Additional information about the company and its management portfolio is available at http://www.hospitalityamerica.com