When Jim Chu first joined Hyatt Hotels Corporation 12 years ago, it looked a little different. For one thing, the company had four brands, primarily focused on full-service hotels. Today, it has seven additional brands: Andaz, Hyatt Centric, the Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Hyatt Ziva, Hyatt Zilara and two select-service brands—Hyatt Place and Hyatt House. In addition to its expansion, franchising has become an increasingly important part of Hyatt’s overall business and strategy, so it makes sense that the company recently created a new position, global head of select service and franchise strategy—and asked Chu to fill it.
Like many, Chu fell into hospitality. “I was working in banking operations after I got out of college,” he said. While attending evening classes for a graduate degree, he interviewed at a new-build hotel near his school. “They were searching for managers in different areas of the hotel. I interviewed, was hired, and started my life and career in accounting. From there, the business quickly got into my blood,” he said.
From accounting, Chu moved to operations, sales and then development. “I’ve done just about the full gambit on the hotel operations side and then got into the corporate side,” he explained. “I just really loved the variety of interactions both with people as well as the different topics going on each day. It was very fast paced and I loved the day-to-day changes in the business.”
And it’s that knowledge and experience Chu credits as the reason why he’s right for this new role, which is designed to strengthen and support the growth of the Hyatt Place and Hyatt House brands. “I have a bit of hotel operations, including being a general manager; I’ve run sales, been VP of sales, a VP of operations, run development groups, and I’ve been in the corporate culture,” he ticked off. “That combination gives me perspective to build my relationships with not only operators but owners.” He added his strong relationships are “driven by my background and my ability to have empathy and understanding for both sides of our conversation.”
Pointing to the company’s expansion, particularly as it relates to select-service and franchising, he said, “This new growth has helped align Hyatt and paired us with many new owners, franchisees and management companies.
“We really entered a different owner segment, and new customer and product segments with Hyatt Place and Hyatt House, along with franchising,” he continued, citing this as the reason for the need of the new role. “All of this deserves a focus and attention to have great-performing brands and to be the most preferred to our owners, our customers and our stakeholders.”
According to Chu, 2016 has been fantastic for the Hyatt House and Hyatt Place brands. “2016 has been very memorable for our select brand performance. We’ve seen something like 36 consecutive quarters of RevPAR gains, which is really unheard of. We’ve had a record number of openings this year. We’ve had new locations, new cities, new countries, all of which are important for driving customer preference,” he said, adding that Hyatt House was recognized by J.D. Power as “Highest in Guest Satisfaction among North American Upper Extended Stay Hotel Chains,” as number one in its category. “This was exciting as it was our first qualifying year for the brand,” he noted. “We also have had several years of top recognition already for Hyatt Place, so we’re thrilled that we know our hotel brands resonate with our guests.”
As for next year? “It would be easy to say I just want more of the same, but I’ll put an exclamation on that: I’d like a lot more of the same,” said Chu. “More continued RevPAR growth and more new locations, which will introduce more new customers to our brands and continue to drive tremendous brand loyalty. On a more nuts-and-bolts level, we’re enhancing and updating—as an example—our Hyatt Place breakfast offering in 2017, which will further enhance our footing.”
The executive evaluated the landscape for select-service brands in the coming year. “Not only the gateway markets within urban markets but also the secondary downtown markets are important, and they’re performing well for us. It’s not a trend; it’s really the new norm,” he said. “The headwinds and the challenges going into 2017 is there’s a tightening of the financial markets, which has a lending impact. We have some rising construction costs, and maybe we have some slowing demand growth in certain areas but, for us, we have such strong brands and we have so much more runway compared to the others. I’m really excited about what 2017 brings for us.”
Chu noted that markets such as California, London and China would be areas of focus for the brand. (In China’s case, both as a market for potential product distribution and the potential of outbound travelers.) “That being said, all the markets where we’re not represented is huge potential for us,” he said.
But while growth is certainly a goal, Chu said it isn’t the only one. “If I said it was all about growth, then that really is singularly focused and not healthy. Focusing on our existing hotels and the brand performance of each individual hotel is important because that rolls up to our overall health. Focusing on good growth will drive customer preference,” he said, adding that another focus has to be “passionately caring for our people so they can be their best… One of the things that has been keenly important to me through my career has been meaningful mentors. To the extent that I can be a meaningful mentor to others—create great opportunities for success for the people I work with—and have awesome owner experiences is really my long-term goal.” HB