Seis Continentes / June 2002
By Larry Luxner
Latin America's lodging industry in general -- and properties owned and managed by Six Continents Hotels in particular -- are finally beginning to recover from the aftershocks caused by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
That's the encouraging word from Stevan Porter, chief operating officer for the Americas region at Six Continents.
"It has been probably the most impacful event in the history of lodging, absolutely a horrendous event in terms of all the lives touched and the changes of the world as a result of 9/11," said Porter in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "Business and leisure travel were clearly interrupted, but we're starting to see some improvement there. My sense is that we will come of it, first as an industry, then as a company within that industry. But it'll take another six to nine months to get out of this completely."
Porter assumed his position last November, less than two months after the attacks. Prior to joining Six Continents, the Columbus, Ohio, native was senior vice-president at Hilton Hotels Corp. and executive vice-president of hotel operations. Before joining Hilton, Porter was executive vice-president for Promus Hotel Corp.
Says John Sweetwood, president of Six Continents Hotels/Americas: "Steve's extensive management experience across all types of hotels will be invaluable in his new role. Since our owned and managed portfolio includes Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Crowne Plaza and Inter-Continental hotels, we need a COO who understandds the dynamics of each of those segments, and Steve has that scope of experience."
In his new job, Porter has "strategic and tactical responsibility" for 30,000 hotel rooms in 215 properties throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Twenty-two of those hotels, both Inter-Continental and Crowne Plaza properties, are in the Latin American region. Some 80% of those properties are franchised.
"Our occupancy rate is in the mid-60s, which is pretty much where the industry is, and we have about a 14% share premium throughout Latin America," said Porter, who has a master's degree in business administration from Xavier University in Cincinnati. "We're in the same situation as most of the other companies in the lodging business. Specific to Latin America, we have a great position there today. Some of our best and most important hotels are located there, such as our properties in São Paulo, Caracas and Buenos Aires."
Porter praised the company's partners in Latin America, singling out El Salvador's Grupo Poma for particular mention. Grupo Poma has teamed up with Six Continents to build eight Inter-Continental properties in five Central American nations. The company's other brands -- Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites -- have a much lower profile than the Inter-Continental and Crowne Plaza brands -- but that will change gradually as the brands and distribution grow throughout the region.
"We've got a pretty active pipeline. We have new properties approved in Brazil and Chile, and we have other things being contemplated," Porter said, though he declined to elaborate on them.
Porter acknowledged that Six Continents' plans have been put on hold in both Argentina and Venezuela, both of which are going through severe political and economic chaos. In Argentina, the devaluation of the peso and a collapse of the banking system has led to political crisis, while in Venezuela -- where Inter-Continental has four hotels -- continuing violence following an attempt to overthrow President Hugo Chávez has scared away foreign investors, including those in the all-important oil sector.
"Clearly it is an unstable environment, and that does have an impact on our business," Porter said. "But we have confidence that both of those countries will find the means to achieve stability. We're a big company and have the ability to weather the storm."