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Checking In with Jay Stein of Dream Hotel Group

jaysteinJay Stein, former COO of Hampshire Hotels Management, had amassed more than 20 years experience with the New York-based company when he earned the title of CEO last December. Given his expertise, Stein knew exactly the right moves that would streamline the company. This involved retiring the Hampshire name—as well as the short-lived Debut Hotel Group brand that his predecessor, Eric Danziger, introduced in 2014—and rebranding as Dream Hotel Group. The company is home to four distinct brands: Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal, and Unscripted Hotels. Stein outlines Dream Hotel Group’s evolution and expansion efforts, and the wealth of opportunities within the lifestyle space.

What prompted the rebranding? We got overly aggressive on some of the concepts we had out there, and the things we were taking on as a company. We needed to refocus, streamline a bit, and come back out with a defined new plan and be able to use resources in a more concise manner. So we dropped a few of the concepts we had, and refocused on our four main brands.

Did you choose the Dream name because consumers were familiar with it? To be completely honest, the consumer wasn’t really our main focus. We did have a reasonable base of core lifestyle users who knew what the Dream concept was, but at this point, we don’t really have the magnitude for consumers to understand that Dream Hotel Group is four other brands. When we tried to do the refinement, it was very clear in my mind that we needed one name. We couldn’t expect the consumer and certainly the developers to know us by both Hampshire and Debut. It made more sense to use Dream Hotel Group, because we were taking advantage of the one thing people knew us by already, particularly in the development community.

What is the company’s growth strategy? Dream will peak out probably at 20 to 25 hotels domestically, and probably double or triple that globally. I don’t think there are many more markets where Dream will really work in. I see probably four times that amount for Time, which is also in the upper-upscale segment. Our upscale brand, Unscripted, is really unlimited, like a Hampton Inn concept—there could be 1,000 of them in the United States. if everything goes to plan. For the Chatwal brand, we’re very selective regarding where that can work, but we are speaking to potential partners about it. I expect it to be a little slower to find people who want to do really high-end luxury development, because the return on investments aren’t always as great, and they tend to be a labor of love or a trophy asset.

What is an industry issue you are concerned about right now? We’ve been trying to figure out the impact of Airbnb. In New York, there is no denying it has had some decent impact. Any 1 or 2 percent is a big number in a market where we’re only growing 1 or 2 percent. We used to grow double digit RevPARs in New York, so 1 percent is a pretty big deal now. But I think Airbnb is looking at some significant changes coming down the pike, and it will not be the demise of the hotel industry. There are a lot of people who like to stay in hotels with cool bars, restaurants, pools, and fun stuff to be around, and that’s what we do. I don’t see Airbnb being able to provide those kinds of experiences.

Will the lifestyle segment continue to flourish? Ian Schrager had it right a long, long time ago: People want highly stylized hotels, with great food and beverage operations that locals want to be at. We started in 1999 with The Time New York and never looked back. We have put all of our efforts in lifestyle ever since. This is what the industry should always have been. As you get bigger, however, the hard thing is whether you can still create interesting, one-off vibes in great locations. At the size we’re at now, with the team we have, we are able to give our best knowledge and best input in creating fun properties in these cities and resort areas. I’m challenging my team to stay fresh and understand the wants and needs of today’s travelers.

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