In college, I worked briefly for an online magazine. They wanted their staff to be “underground”—or posses originality. I had only joined because I was promised I could write TV reviews, which a rebel that does not make. So when they asked me what made me underground, I answered honestly that I was actually mainstream, hoping they’d see it as subversive, and not just blatant honesty.
This anecdote is a non-sequitur, but it reminded me of the way that hotels are also seeking that underground quality, to be original, authentic, experiential, unique. And while some (read: seemingly all) are launching lifestyle brands, others are using their resources to launch soft brands that position smaller hotels in the leagues with well-known entities.
In fact, Loews Hotels & Resorts recently launched its OE Collection, and I was able to speak with Constantine Dimas, senior vice president and chief business officer at Loews, about why the first hotel under the OE name, the Bisha Hotel & Residences in Toronto, is the perfect blueprint for what OE stands for and what’s to come from this soft brand.
How did OE come about?
We wanted to leverage what Loews had, which is our operational excellence and 65 years of history. We wanted to create a platform for owners of assets that aligned with their interests, and we wanted to cultivate those people in the market that really had a vision and were trying to do something original, so we created the OE Collection. What we’re offering first and foremost is our operational excellence (we’re a management company at our very root), for original experiences on an opt-in ecosystem. Those were our three OEs. We’re dropping everything but keeping the center of Loews. So we created a collection. It’s not a branded collection; it’s a collection of brands
Tell us about the first hotel in the OE Collection?
What we want are visionaries like Charles Khabouth. It’s our first OE address with his Bisha Hotel in Toronto. Charles is a restaurateur and nightlife impresario, a real tastemaker, and an arbiter of style. He has a very clear organizing principle for his hotel, but he’s not a hotelier. He wanted a rock-solid partner that frees him to do what he’s doing.
How do you distinguish a unique property from an original property?
Unique to me is a little bit different. Unique means there is one or that someone is trying to be different. Original means there was a very strong organizing principle and ethos that’s carried throughout that informs not only the style but also the curation of service, delivery, and programming of that hotel.
What we have been seeing in the market, which is why we positioned OE the way we did, is that everyone was hiring a great designer to put beautiful touch points into their hotels. That’s not enough to create a great experience. It’s not enough to create something that’s compelling and causes the guest to come back. For us, there needs to be an organizing principle that is the vision of the owner/developer, something that draws its sensibility from a particular place or particular message. And that for us is originality.
What locations are you interested in?
New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are the key cities that we’re aggressively pursuing deals, in addition to Toronto, a major gateway city in North America. We’re also looking at two primary markets in Europe of London and Paris and two secondary markets of Berlin and Rome.
What does OE’s pipeline look like?
We’re looking at properties that need to be repositioned and benefit from efficiency and heightened distribution, and we’re also looking at several new builds. The future is promised to no one, but we’re hoping to announce at least two more deals this year.