Q&A with Craig A. Mason, CHMWarnick

Craig A. Mason has more than 20 years of upper-upscale and luxury hotel asset management experience and was recently named EVP of CHMWarnick—a provider of hotel asset management and owner advisory services. Mason has also been tapped to establish the firm’s office in Washington. Here, he gives Hotel Business the details.

How would you describe your portfolio? CHMWarnick has a very diverse portfolio of hotels under asset management with more than 29,000 rooms across 70 properties. The properties are diverse on both geographic scale and property type, ranging from select-service portfolios, urban luxury and destination resorts all the way to convention, big-box hotels. The properties are also varied by brand and operator, giving the team wide exposure to the industry at large.

What are some current challenges the industry is facing? The growing interest in the hospitality sector by nontraditional investors has easily doubled the demand for qualified owner representatives over the past decade. As a result, you see many new firms and individuals emerging as asset managers, and the level of expertise and effectiveness varies widely. That’s not only been confusing for owners, but also damaging to the reputation of asset managers generally, especially with brands and operators. Collaboration is a cornerstone of our asset management style and approach toward achieving results, and it can take longer these days to build trust with a new operating team.

I would add that diversity continues to be a challenge for our discipline industry-wide. While CHMWarnick has benefited from a balanced ratio of women to men in senior leadership, HAMA (Hospitality Asset Managers Association) and the investment side of the industry is still predominantly white males. We need to do more to elevate women and minorities to senior positions within the field of asset management.

How do you plan to overcome these challenges? To help ownership groups identify and select those asset managers who are truly qualified, in 2012 HAMA created the CHAM (Certified Hotel Asset Manager) designation, which is the world’s only advanced certification available to accomplished hotel asset management professionals. To become a CHAM, professionals must master many areas of study, possess a significant number of years serving as a “lead” asset manager and pass a rigorous exam. Today, there are only 31 CHAMs, and CHMWarnick has six of them, the most of any firm.

In terms of diversity, within our firm, we focus on ways to maintain our balance, while supporting the next generation of leaders through training (e.g. Castell Project, CHAM) and presenting opportunities for gaining increased industry visibility through speaking spots, authoring articles, etc.   

How do you plan to use your experience in establishing the DC office? First and foremost, this is a relationship-driven business. I have cultivated a positive relationship with multiple brand operators and third-party management organizations that will certainly help me establish a presence in the market and allow me to successfully represent my clients. I believe my experience working for a REIT representing hotels across multiple brands, operators and property types in numerous markets makes me uniquely qualified to bring those experiences to the owners that work with CHMWarnick. Over the years, I have gained significant hospitality knowledge across the life cycle of developing, owning and selling hotel real estate. I hope to use that knowledge now to help our clients improve their investment returns and create long-term value for their investors.

What should the industry know about CHMWarnick that it may not already? Besides its incredible bench strength, people should know that the best time to engage professionals like CHMWarnick is early in the process of development or acquisition. Our experts can help steer hotel programming, brand selection, manager selection and contract negotiations that can both protect the owner and help optimize their investment. We can also identify various risks and what should be done to mitigate them.

How has asset management evolved over the years? Much has changed. Early on, it was very difficult working with the operators who didn’t feel it was necessary to share much information with ownership or look to them for direction with the hotel assets. Many asset managers in those days were more akin to accountants than hospitality professionals. Today, asset managers are hotel real estate experts able to help guide a hotel executive team in multiple operational aspects to help maximize the cash flow of the property. Asset managers can provide strategic direction for an asset, providing key input into capital planning and other asset life cycle events. A lot has changed over the past 25 years, especially the relationship between owners and operators. Today, it’s much more collaborative between asset management and brand operators, with both finding the common ground to move hotels forward in a positive manner.

How do you expect the industry to change going forward? I expect there will be more consolidation on the brand side. Our business has tight margins that are forcing companies to look for efficiencies through scale. The industry will continue to change through technological advances, both to improve customer engagement and to provide efficiencies in labor. The trend will be toward smaller hotel rooms that can be cleaned and refurbished more efficiently, and with hotels more focused on how to connect guests into the local community. The labor model will continue to evolve as positions will be consolidated and workers will flow across activities more seamlessly to where there’s an active need by the customer. This will be more rewarding for employees, as well as improve the bond between the guest and hotel worker. I think all of these changes are positive and bode well for the success of the industry. HB

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