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Interview with Bob Loewen, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Wyndham Hotel Group

Robert Loewen joined the company in April 2000 as director, corporate audit. He then served as vice president, corporate audit, responsible for overseeing the company’s financial audit process. He was named Wyndham Hotel Group executive vice president and chief financial officer in November 2005, responsible for the company’s financial reporting, forecasting and planning, mergers and acquisitions. In April 2011, he took on the additional responsibility of overseeing international operations and development. Prior to joining the Wyndham Group, Loewen served as division controller for the Healthcare Consulting Division of Becton Dickinson, and for Missbrenner Inc., a fabrics manufacturer based in Clifton, N.J. He began his career in 1988 as a staff accountant with Coopers & Lybrand. Loewen, a certified public accountant, received his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1988 from the University of Delaware in Newark.

Based on a long history, Wyndham Hotel Group is still perceived as an American franchisor with less visibility for its brands than other international hotel groups outside the US, how do you intend to change that perception?

While it’s true that the majority of our hotels are in North America, we’ve made great strides in the last five years to expand our global footprint and will continue to do so. We recently came off of our strongest quarter ever for hotel openings, bringing our global portfolio to nearly 7,380 hotels, 1,100 of which are located outside of the U.S. and Canada. That’s up significantly from the 600 international properties we had five years ago and it’s a trend we expect to continue as 55 percent of our 950 hotel development pipeline is made up of international properties. Our success is a result of prioritizing development in the markets and countries where we believe there is the greatest opportunity for growth and consumer demand; investing additional resources in our international offices (London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, India, Dubai and Germany); expanding the number of brands that we franchise internationally and; perhaps most importantly, making sure that the owners who choose to develop under our umbrella are paired with the right brand: the one that’s best suited for their given market and likely to provide the greatest return. In which geographic areas do you see or plan the strongest opportunities for developments?There’s opportunity all across the globe at the moment but it does vary from region to region. In Asia-Pacific, China continues to show the greatest amount of opportunity followed strongly by countries like India and to a great extent Thailand. In Europe and the Middle East, it's countries like Germany, Turkey, the U.K., the U.A.E. and Africa. In Latin America, we’re seeing great momentum in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. The reality is we are always looking to expand into markets that support concentrated development.Which of your brand(s) would act as a spearhead for market penetration?It varies by market, as owners/developers and travelers in different markets have different lodging needs. At the end of the day, our greatest concern is making sure we’re matching the right owner with the right brand for a given location - and our diverse portfolio of 15 brands allows us to make that right match. That said, more often than not, when we do enter a market, it is with one of our better known, more established brands, be that Super 8 in the economy segment, Ramada in the midscale segment or Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in the upscale segment. Wyndham Hotel Group seems to favor local or regional partnerships such as the one with Grand City or Treff in Germany, or Corinthia, do you want to continue in that direction?Having a strong local or regional partner that you’re able to leverage is an incredible asset in helping ensure success. This is especially true when entering into a new market as you’re able to take advantage of the partner’s understanding of the local culture, business knowledge and, in the case of Grand City, their established presence. At the end of the day, we are always looking for multi-unit operators and developers as well as strong operators with whom we may franchise.After the acquisition of the brand, how would you describe your partnership with Melia Hotels International regarding Tryp? How do you split the responsibilities in terms of hotel management and development?We work hand-in-hand with Melia when it comes to Tryp by Wyndham. They spent 10 years developing the brand; they own, lease and/or manage the majority of the current portfolio and they have incredible knowledge and understanding of the Europe and Latin America markets, two places where we’re eager to grow as a company. As such, it only makes sense that we work closely with them as we continue to grow and expand the brand. That said, while they maintain responsibility for operating and managing the hotels that they own and subsequently franchise through Wyndham Hotel Group, our focus is on growing the brand globally. In the last year, we added 17 properties throughout Germany while also expanding the brand into new markets like the U.S., Canada, Turkey, Panama and Colombia. In addition, we continue to develop a significant global pipeline for the brand. Wyndham Hotel Group only recently got involved in hotel management, through the acquisition of the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts brand, how do you judge that experience?Expanding the number of properties that we provide management services to is an integral part of our strategy to grow our larger business and create additional opportunities for revenue and profitability. We’re a full-service hotel company and if you want to be successful in that role, it’s vital that you’re able to take care of the needs of the industry and the needs of owners and developers - many of which are management related. Over the last several years, we’ve assembled a highly skilled and experienced management team whose sole purpose is to ensure that we’re well poised to take advantage of opportunities in the management space, be they domestic or international, and to manage those properties successfully. Today, we provide management services for 49 hotels representing five of our fifteen brands. That includes 29 managed hotels in the U.S. that were added in just over the last year, as well as handful of managed properties in the Middle East and Asia that were added during the same time.Would you consider signing management contracts for other brands than Wyndham Hotels?We currently offer management services for a third of our 15 brands, focusing mostly on full service properties that operate under our Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Ramada flags.When the Asset Light strategy is largely spread among hotel groups, would you see an interest in investing company money to enter a market or secure a development deal, such as in Orlando?Currently, we own only two hotels within our portfolio, one of which is the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek and the Wyndham Rio Mar in Puerto Rico. At this time, we have no intention of investing in additional properties.Do you forecast more changes in management or franchise contracts from hotel owners who are challenging hotel operators and the commercial power of the brands?We believe strongly in the value proposition of our organization and our brands and will always work with owners to ensure that they have the right hotel in the right market. It’s about creating win-win situations for both sides; something we pride ourselves on. At the end of the day, we want to be the hotel company that owners want to be with and stay with.

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