Industry NewsBoutique & IndependentSense of Place: Lark Hotels Bets on the Strength of Boutique and...

Sense of Place: Lark Hotels Bets on the Strength of Boutique and Independent Lodging

Over the past decade since its inception, hotel development and management company Lark Hotels has assembled a portfolio of more than 30 branded boutique hotels in high-profile destinations. The company has taken significant steps in recent years to position itself for further growth; in 2020, Lark Hotels launched a third-party management division focused on independent properties, and in 2021, the company introduced Bluebird by Lark, a sister collection of reimagined boutique roadside lodges, the latest of which is set to open this month in Lake Placid, New York. In the year ahead, the company is pursuing expansion through both third-party management agreements and joint venture opportunities.

The outlook for Lark Hotels—and the boutique and independent lodging sector as a whole—remains bright, says Rob Blood, founder and president of Lark Hotels. “We see independent and boutique as a segment that is growing strong and stronger. People who travel today place a premium on local and experience, and there’s no better way to get that than to stay in a neighborhood hotel,” Blood explains. “I feel very strongly that when the majority of people travel, they want to experience a true sense of place and community.”

Bluebird by Lark is a collection of affordable, revamped hotels, motels, and ski lodges designed to capture the “true sense of place and community” that Blood describes. “Our growth has been centered around acquiring owner-operated hotels and motels that require investment to return them to their memory-making stature,” he explains. “Over the last year, as we’ve rolled out nine Bluebirds, we’ve focused on classic leisure destinations throughout the Northeast. We want Bluebirds to be adjacent to markets that offer exceptional outdoor experiences, family fun, and opportunities for activity-focused travel but at an accessible price point.”

In addition to Bluebird Lake Placid, which is slated to debut in January 2023, this year will mark the opening of Bluebird Ocean Point in East Boothbay, Maine, during the summer. “Beyond that, we are currently seeking acquisition opportunities and third-party management contracts with owners who are looking to refresh and reposition their motels, lodges, and hotels for travelers who are design- and budget-conscious,” Blood notes.

The company is also looking to grow through its third-party management arm focused on independent assets. “Lark has always been a third-party operator; it’s just that we have only ever managed assets that fall under the Lark umbrella. In 2020, we felt that we have achieved a certain efficiency in our management of independent-spirited hotels and as such felt that we could offer our unique services to non-branded properties,” Blood explains. “We found that there was great demand for sophisticated, tech-enabled management of smaller (sub-100-room) independent hotels. It turns out that the systems we developed over the last 10 years have proven to be very effective when we deploy them for Lark, Bluebird, and Lark Independent properties.”

Blood adds that the company has been active in the U.S. Southeast over the past year, signing management contracts in Savannah, Georgia; New Braunfels, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Asheville, North Carolina. “We will look to continue this growth in the region as we move into 2023. We are also keenly interested in a more aggressive West Coast expansion and are currently in conversations with multiple owners,” he explains.

Overall, Blood expects 2023 will be a banner year for his corner of the hospitality sector. “Independent and boutique hotels are often the heartbeat of a neighborhood, so even with economic concerns, I believe that our segment will continue to thrive in 2023.”