Seis Continentes / Fall 2001
By Larry Luxner
From Santiago in the Dominican Republic to São Paulo, Brazil, the Bass Hotels & Resorts chain has embarked on a massive expansion program aimed at fulfilling demand for hotel rooms in secondary markets throughout Latin America.
The program comes on the heels of $175 million worth of upgrades and renovations in the last three years at Bass properties in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
"Our franchises and partners in the region have made a significant investment in modernizing and expanding their properties," said Alvaro Diago, area president for Bass Hotels & Resorts Latin America. "With a 43% increase in properties last year, coupled with these renovations, BHR is now the definitive hotel company in the region, with more properties, more hotel rooms and more facilities in more countries than any other hotel company in Latin America.
In Argentina, the Crowne Plaza Panamericano Buenos Aires has doubled in size from 200 to 400 rooms with the addition of a second tower. In Brazil, the Inter-Continental Rio's convention center was remodeled and enlarged, while digital telephone and ISDN lines were installed, allowing for more sophisticated events to take place in the hotel.
At the Crowne Plaza São Paulo, the lobby, lobby bar and reception area were completely remodeled, the conventions area expanded and guest rooms remodeled; the hotel is also getting a heliport.
In Chile, the Inter-Continental Santiago added a new 200-room tower to its existing 103 rooms, as well as a 1,500-square-meter convention center. Meanwhile, the nearby Crowne Plaza Santiago received a total interior and exterior rehabilitation and the installation of Internet access in guest rooms.
In Nicaragua, the Hotel Inter-Continental Managua Convention Center opened next to the existing hotel; the 4,000-square-meter facility can hold up to 2,000 people. The hotel's lobby, pool and kitchen are being renovated, while its 7th and 8th floors are being converted into Club Inter-Continental floors; the 9th floor will become the Club Inter-Continental Lounge.
Finally, in Venezuela, the Tamanaco Inter-Continental in Caracas saw the construction of a new Club Inter-Continental floors and a lounge; guest rooms along with the presidential Suite, the executive meeting center, the restaurant and the bar were also remodeled. Guest rooms, meeting rooms and the fitness center at the Inter-Continental Valencia were completely modeled. And finally, the Inter-Continental Guayana will get a new Club Inter-Continental floor as well as a new casino, convention and meeting center.
Looking forward, BHR has aggressive plans for Latin American cities and regions currently not being served by existing properties.
Roger W. Titley, vice-president of development and asset management for BHR Latin America, is focusing much of his energy these days on two countries: the Dominican Republic and Brazil.
In the Dominican Republic, Inter-Continental has been represented for a number of years by the Hotel V Centenario, a 234-room luxury hotel along Santo Domingo's seaside Avenida George Washington, also known as the Malecón. The property is owned by two private Venezuelan investors, which is why that hotel falls under the Latin American division of Bass rather than the North American division, oversees Inter-Continental's other Caribbean properties in Puerto Rico and Jamaica.
"Based on the reputation of the Hotel Quincentenario, people approached us for other opportunities in the Dominican Republic, which we were able to channel into our Crowne Plaza brand," Titley said in a phone interview from BHR Latin America's Miami headquarters.
The first new property will be a 200-room hotel along the Malecón, about two blocks west of the existing Quincentenario. Construction has already begun, and the hotel should open in late 2003.
"It'll be part of a mixed-use complex currently under construction, which includes a commercial office tower and retail shopping mall," said. "We don't know the size of the investment because it's a franchise license."
Bass will have no equity in the project, but rather is licensing the use of the Crowne Plaza brand name and all of its support systems.
The second Crowne Plaza is rising in Santiago de los Caballeros, which with around 280,000 inhabitants is the Dominican Republic's No. 2 city. This one hasn't broken ground yet, but will shortly. Also set for completion in late 2003, it'll have 200 guest rooms and suites, along with a casino.
"There are no internationally branded hotels in Santiago," said Titley. "There are a few local hotels of good quality, but this will be the first international five-star hotel in that market."
Titley, 53, is originally from Chicago. He's been a hotelier ever since getting a master's degree from the American Graduate School of International Management, also known as Thunderbird University, in Glendale, Ariz. Before assuming his current post five years ago, Titley spent 18 years with Sheraton -- first in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, later in Latin America.
Titley cited Brazil as another priority in the Bass development plan for Latin America. Later this year, construction will break ground on the Holiday Inn Anhembi in São Paulo. With 780 rooms, this will be the largest Holiday Inn in Latin America upon completion in October 2003.
"It will be contiguous to the largest exhibition center in Latin America, the Anhembi Exhibition Center, which has 54,000 square meters of exhibition space," said Titley, noting that the new Holiday Inn will also be adjacent to the Anhembi Theater, which seats 4,300 people. It'll also serve a new 36,000-square-meter convention center to be built concurrently with the hotel. The whole project will require a total investment of around $55 million.
The project's owners are Construtora São Jose Ltda., which owns the property as the result of a recent government privatization. This company is unrelated to Brascan do Brasil, the majority owner of Inter-Continental's two existing Brazilian hotels -- one in Rio de Janeiro, the other in São Paulo. In addition, Brascan is building a 365-room Staybridge Suites hotel at Brascan Century Plaza. That project, to open late next year, includes two new office towers, a retail shopping mall, a theater complex and 1,900 parking space.
"There are already lots of hotels in São Paulo, but none in Parque Anhembi," said Titley. "The closest hotels servicing the Exhibiton Center are in the downtown central busienss district. This will be the only hotel in the park physically contected to all of the complex's meeting spaces, convention center and 13,000 parking spaces."
Also on the drawing boards is an Inter-Continental in Brasília, the nation's capital. Titley says Brascan was successful in designing a mixed-use complex on a lake in Brasília.
"They envisioned having a 304-room, Inter-Continental branded and managed hotel and marina in the first phase," he said. "But there are no contracts executed for any of that yet. It's still in the planning stages."