The ones to watch in 2013

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Niki Leondakis, Commune Hotels & Resorts
As arguably the highest profile woman in the US boutique and lifestyle hotel sector, Niki Leondakis is set to make her mark at one of the most intriguing players in the space, having spent nearly 20 years at Kimpton Hotels and Resorts, most recently as president and chief operating officer.

In her new role as CEO of Commune Hotels and Resorts, Leondakis is charged with growing the company's annual revenue to a target of $1 billion. The joint venture between Thompson Hotels and Joie de Vivre has a portfolio of 45 hotels in the US, as well as the Belgraves in London. Leondakis is looking to expand in to markets including Hawaii, London, New York, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Cabo San Lucas and Palo Alto.

John Pritzker, Commune co-chairman, said: "Niki's work at Kimpton exhibited her passion and balanced approach to leadership. Having Niki partner with us at this time gives her a unique opportunity to impact all aspects of the company during a period of rapid expansion."

Girish Jhunjhnuwala, Ovolo
Ovolo Group's Girish Jhunjhnuwala is rapidly making a mark in Asia and beyond with his company's boutique hotel and serviced apartment offerings. The winner of the Owner Operator Award at the 2012 Hong Kong Business Awards, Jhunjhnuwala founded Ovolo Group in 2002 "with the aim to revolutionise the Hong Kong hospitality market by providing accommodation with attractive well- spaced interiors and all-inclusive services that cater fully to guests' needs".

The company has a portfolio of eight properties in Hong Kong and Australia, and plans further expansion in both regions. In 2012 it opened a 42-room Hong Kong hotel - with another to follow in 2013 - and its first Australian hotel, a 43-room boutique property in Melbourne's Central Business District. It is also planning a series of further openings in major Australian cities.

Petter Stordalen, Nordic Choice Hotels
Petter Stordalen is onbe of the hospitality industry's most colourful characters. In 2002  chained himself to the UK nuclear treatment plant Sellafield in protest for a nine-hour environmental protest, he has rebuilt his sports car to be the world's first biofueled Ferrari, and his $5 million wedding to wife Gunhild is the most expensive ever seen in Scandinavia.

2013 is the year the owner and CEO of Nordic Choice Hotels, which has more than 170 hotels in the Nordic region, turns his attention to the Oslo boutique market with the opening of The Thief.

The 120-room new-build property will feature three executive boardrooms which can also be used as private dining rooms, a glass meeting room for up to 50 people, and an indoor banquet and event space accommodating up to 130. It is in the recently regenerated Tjuvholmen area - "the little island which was once home to criminals and shady dealings now offers a whole sea of experiences," says the hotel's website, hence the property's name.

Bernard Magrez, French wine magnate
It is always fascinating when a high profile figure from another industry becomes a hotelier. This year the one to watch could be Bernard Magrez, owner of four classified wine estates in Bordeaux, who is set to open the first in a small chain of boutique hotels in 2013.
The first of the Bernard Magrez Boutique Hotels will be a converted 18th century building on rue Labottière in Bordeaux, opposite the Cultural Institute which he opened in October 2011.

"I have long believed that wine is one expression of a wider culture, and boutique hotels are the natural next step to both the art institute, and the luxury wine tourism service that I launched a few years ago," Magrez told wine magazine "I am hoping for similar clientele to the Grand Hotel in Bordeaux, but those who may prefer more privacy and exclusivity - and of course those who wish to be immersed in the world of fine Bordeaux wines."

The first property, set for an October 2013 opening, will have eight rooms, and will offer wine tastings, wine tours and an extensive wine cellar to guests, as well as the use of a chauffer-driven Rolls Royce. The interior will be decorated in the Napoleon III style; with room rates starting at €400 per night. Further hotels in Belgium, London and other countries will follow.

Robin Sheppard, Bespoke Hotels
The chairman of Bespoke Hotels has seen his company's portfolio enlarge considerably over 2012, giving it a total of 97 properties under management worldwide, and the promise of a busy 2013.

In December 2012 it added 34 UK properties owned by Oxford Hotels and Inns, including a mix of luxury, four- and three-star properties which will join Bespoke's existing sub-brands Beloved, which features a collection of four-star deluxe hotels, and Befriend, a selection of three-star options.

Flagship hotels that will join the group include the Carnoustie Golf Hotel and Elemis Spa, host to The Open Championship 2007 and The Women's British Open 2011; and The Lugger Hotel in Port Loe, Cornwall, voted by the Sunday Times as the best new seaside hotel in the world. Another addition is the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside with its world renowned Quaich Bar,stocked with 700 different single malt scotch whiskies. in the heart of Speyside, Scotland's Malt Whisky Country.

Bespoke has also moved in to the top end of the London market, with the opening of the 36-bedroom Wellesley in Knightsbridge. Owned by Arab Investments' City and Country Hotels, the hotel, which opened on 14 December, is operated on a white label basis. Sheppard says Bespoke will "provide the highest level of discerning service within a quality hotel environment."

Marco Nijhof, yoo Hotels
In September 2012, yoo, the design company founded by John Hitchcox, appointed Marco Nijhof as chief executive officer of its new hotel management division, yoo Hotels. He will work closely with Hitchcox and yoo CEO Chris Boulton to "develop and implement a business strategy for yoo Hotels, with further announcements on yoo Hotels to follow in coming months".

yoo is expanding its business offering in to hotel management services as part of the company's growth strategy. yoo Hotels will include "a boutique affordable luxury brand" as well as "a high end five to six star hotel brand". The company has been involved in hotel design, marketing and furnishing for more than 12 years and has decided to offer management services "as a natural next step".

Nijhof has previously held senior positions at Corinthia Hotels, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, Boscolo Hotels, Hyatt and Marriott. He currently lives in Athens, Greece. He joined yoo from Neues Schloss Hotel Management GmbH in Germany, and the first fruits of his new appointment are expected to be announced in 2013.

Julie Purnell, Denihan Hospitality Group
Julie Purnell was appointed senior vice president, acquisitions and development by Denihan in May 2012. Based in San Francisco, her territory is the west coast of the US, and her mission is to expand the company through new development and acquisitions, joint venture partnerships and management contracts.

Target markets include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and San Diego, and she will also look to bring Denihan's two hotel brands, Affinia and The James, across from Denihan's east coast stronghold.

Purnell, who has 25 years' experience in the hospitality industry, has held executive development positions at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, House of Blues Hospitality, Loews Hotels and, most recently, Marriott International. Expect to see announcements from Denihan about west coast projects in 2013.

Will Deague, Art Series Hotels
In Australia, Will Deague's Art Series hotels are bringing innovation and fresh thinking to the Melbourne market. From a standing start, the company has created three boutique hotels in the city in under a year - The Olsen, The Blackman and The Cullen - and has launched what is describes as a world first, the Overstay Checkout. Essentially guests don't have to check out of their room until someone else checks in.

Deague says: "We think hotels keeping the rooms vacant is a bit of a waste. If people are not using them, why not let guests stay longer - even if it's a few days! Naked [Art Series' design and communications agency] have developed a genuine product innovation we're extremely excited by. We're rolling it out over summer - and then we'll see how we go, with the aim to introduce the product during quiet times of the year."

The company has also recently commissioned an all-new mobile site "to improve the mobile experience within an optimised environment, whilst also creating a point of different in the highly competitive hotel market".

Priya Paul, Park Hotels
The Park Hotels, part of India's Apeejay Surrendra Group, has ambitious plans to open more than 20 boutique hotels across the country.
Chairperson Priya Paul, who will oversee the process, says the process is well underway. The  company describes itself as India's first boutique hotel group, and has properties in all of India's major cities, as well as tourist destinations such as the Kerala backwaters.

Paul describes her experience of managing the chain as "a journey of excitement and hard work". "For me, the differentiator is all The Park Hotels properties are driven by design. Everything we do is meticulously planned to make a difference," she says.

Carlos Pellas, Pellas Group
Carlos Pellas is part of Nicaragua's Pellas family, a business dynasty that has interests in transportation, computers, sugar, ethanol, the Flor de Cana Rum brand and Vivian Pellas Hospital. Pellas also founded the BAC Credomatic financial network in 1985, which was sold to GE Capital in 2011, in what was the largest business deal in Central American history.

But he is turning his focus to hospitality in 2013 when the Mukul Resort & Spa will open on February 1 at Guacalito de la Isla, a 1,670-acre private beach community on Nicaragua's Emerald Coast. Mukul will feature 37 rooms, each with an ocean view, pool and private staff. Other resort amenities include Spa Mukul, with six private spa-treatment casitas, a beach club featuring dining and lounge areas, a swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course.

Pellas says: "We are doing everything at Mukul to the highest standards so that we can attract the most sophisticated travelers in the world. I want them to feel like guests in my family's home as they discover the Nicaragua that I love."

Michael Levie, Citizen M
The boss of Dutch "luxury budget" brand Citizen M is set to consolidate on a busy 2012 with more openings in the coming 12 months. Having opened hotels in Amsterdam and Glasgow, the company launched its first London property, a 192-room hotel near Tate Modern on the South Bank in July. It offers rooms from £99 per night.

The hotel features an open plan lobby, ground-floor canteenM with wooden coffee bar and bakery-style open kitchen, computers for public use, and seven meeting rooms. The rooms, while small, feature beds measuring two metres square, free wifi and movies, workdesk, a fridge, vanity area and hanging space. The TV, blinds, temperature, lighting and wake up alarms are all controlled by a touchscreen tablet.

As with all Citizen M hotels, artwork is featured heavily throughout the property - the London collection includes pieces by Turner prize-nominated Mark Titchner, a video installation by Belgian artist Hans ob de Beeck, and a floor-to-ceiling mural by collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus.

Levie has plans for two further London properties, along with outlets in New York, Paris, Rotterdam, Hong Kong and Istanbul.

Loh Lik Peng, Unlisted Collection
Singaporean lawyer turned hotel design guru Loh Lik Peng has announced plans for a 60-room property in Sydney's Broadway. Loh's company, Unlisted Collection, will develop the hotel on the site of the old Clare Hotel at the $2 billion Central Park residential, retail and commercial development on Broadway.

Loh, a pioneer of the boutique hotel sector in Asia - his first property, Hotel 1929 in Chinatown in Singapore, was one of the first in the region - said of the new project: "I think we will also make a positive impact doing something different but cutting edge. Staying in the Shangri-La is great but it's also great to have other options and I feel the diversity of choice makes it more exciting."

The new Sydney hotel will have a similar ethos to Loh's properties the WaterHouse in Shanghai and the Town Hall Hotel in London. He says profit is not his main motive for developing hotels: "I do them because I am passionate about doing these types of project. They are fun and fulfilling and ultimately I believe that the rewards will be there if we do it right."

Saad Aldoski, BCD Co
Developing hotels in new and emerging markets is always a daunting business, but in the case of Saad Aldoski, there is also an element of bringing some sense of normality back to Iraq after the last war-torn decade.

Aldoski's company, BCD Co.  has teamed up with Starwood to develop an Aloft property in Erbil. The property will open in 2015, following the Sheraton Erbil, also a BCD-developed property, which opened in 2012.

Aloft Erbil will be part of a mixed-use development in the new part of Erbil. It will feature 200 guestrooms, an all-day-dining restaurant, the brand's signature re:mix and w xyz lounges, a re:charge fitness centre and the re:fuel 24-hour F&B outlet.

Aldoski says: "We are excited to sign our second hotel with Starwood, and we look forward to developing this relationship further to contribute to the growing development of the tourism industry in the Kurdistan area and Iraq as a whole. Erbil is considered as one of the top emerging markets in the Middle East, and we believe Aloft Erbil, with its modern style and great value, will create a new benchmark in the city."

Tim Dixon, Aparium Hotel Group
Last year, Milwaukee developer Tim Dixon joined forces with the former executives of a top Chicago hotel to manage and develop boutique hotels across the US. Aparium Hotel Group will manage Dixon's Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee and is looking to manage other hotels. A second company, Aparium Development Company, will develop boutique hotels.

Dixon, who is CEO at Aparium Development Company, is working with partners Mario Tricoci, former managing partner of the 188-room Elysian Hotel in Chicago, and Kevin Robinson, former chief operating officer of Elysian Hotel Company. Tricoci and Robinson will be CEO and COO of Aparium Hotel Group respectively. Brigette Breitenbach will be head of marketing for Aparium Hotel Group.

2013 will see the first project for the new venture, in Covington, Kentucky, where Aparium Hotel Group plans to convert the city hall in to a boutique hotel. It is working with The Salyers Group, a Covington commercial real estate company, on the conversion of the 102-year old building.

Mark Edleson, Alila Hotels & Resorts
Some of our ones to watch in this list are bringing new hotels to established, tried and tested locations. But Singapore-based Mark Edleson of Alila Hotels & Resorts likes to do things a little differently. His major projects for 2013 are a luxury resort in Oman's Jabal Akhdar region, and the conversion of a 230-year old hill fort in Rajasthan in to a 59-suite luxury resort.

Alila Jabal Akhdar will open in late 2013. The resort is set 2000 metres above sea level and is around two hours' drive from Muscat. With views of the Hajar mountains, it will feature 78 rooms, six suites, two royal villas, a cliff-side restaurant, pool, spa, fitness centre and events space. Alila Fort Bishangarh will also open in late 2013 following a restoration and conversion process. Positioned on a granite hill in the Aravalli Mountain range, the site is owned by the ruling Maharaja, Rao Rajendra Singh, and has been in his family since the 14th century. The fort is thought to be the only one of its kind to be converted into a heritage resort and is an unique example of the Jaipur Gharana architecture influenced by both the Mughals and the British.

Alila also has projects underway in Indonesia, and is planning future expansion into China and Europe.

Jyotsna Suri, Bharat Hotels/Lalit Suri Hospitality Group
For Jyotsna Suri, 2013 is about consolidation in its home market of India with a new mid-market brand, and the development of a luxury hotel in London.

"Our focus is development of our properties in India. We are entering the mid-market segment with 25 hotels under our new brand Lalit Traveller in next five years," said Suri. "We have already a Traveller property in Jaipur and we are looking at properties in Amritsar, Pune and Dehradun by 2014," says Suri.

The London property, which will open in late 2014 as The Lalit London, was acquired in 2012 at auction for £15 million, with a £13 million restoration set to start in March 2013. The building, a former grammar school called St Olave's is near Tower Bridge. It will form part of the One Tower Bridge development by Berkeley Homes.

"We had been looking for a property in London for almost last six years but could not find one which would suit our investment potential. Despite the slowdown in western countries, London has not shown any drop in occupancy. Also, we are entering a high-end boutique segment, where there aren't many properties like this. We wanted to have a small high-end property where investment is not so high and which would start giving us higher returns quickly," says Suri.

Sam Nazarian, SLS
Sam Nazarian's SLS brand has been making a splash in the prime US markets. In May, the 132-room SLS South Beach opened in Miami. The property is a US$45 million makeover of the former Ritz Plaza hotel, designed by Philippe Starck - who also designed the neighboring Delano Hotel in partnership with Ian Schrager.

The Miami property is the second location for Nazarian, who opened his first SLS in autumn 2008 in Los Angeles. This year he has two projects under development, in New York and Las Vegas, and is looking for more locations in cities such as New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

2013 will see the opening of SLS Hotel New York in what Nazarian describes as " the most important market for hoteliers in the USA". It will have 190 rooms and suites, as well as bars in the lobby and on a 14th story rooftop. Nazarian will again work with designer Philippe Starck on the hotel's interiors.

Ricardo Semler, Botanique Hotel & Spa
Ricardo Semler is one of Brazil's highest profile businessmen. His theory and practice of "industrial democracy" led to his company Semco growing annual revenue from US$4 million in 1982 to $212 million in 2003, and his book Maverick became an international best-seller.

Semler has taken a step back from his conglomerate, but is still very active, and one of his latest ventures is the newly opened Botanique Hotel & Spa, set on a 700 acre site in the Campos do Jordão mountains in Brazil.

The property features 11 private villas and six suites, as well as what is described as the first 100 per cent Brazilian spa in the country, a restaurant, private movie theatre, stables with Olympic standard horses, library and cookery school. It has been designed "to showcase showcase the best of Brazil with indigenous design, furnishings, culture, cuisine, and experiences".

The architectural design incorporates huge river stone boulders, and walls of glass and exposed steel which offer expansive views. Semler has commissioned furniture and pieces from emerging and established Brazilian artists and designers for the interiors.

Semler says: "We are introducing a new concept of contemporary Brazilian hospitality, rescuing the authenticity of old Campos do Jordão, which was an anchor for spiritual retreats, and combining with a top-of-the-line-luxury feel."

Robert De Niro, Nobu Hospitality
As well as starring in and producing Hollywood movies, actor Robert de Niro has a string of business interests. He is particularly active in the hospitality sector, and has beena hotelier for some years, since the launch of his Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, New York City.

He is also one of the major shareholders in Nobu Hospitality, and 2013 is the year when the brand - named after Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa - moves in to the hotel space.

Its first project,  the 181-room Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace will be taking reservations from February 4th 2013. It has been developed in a collaboration between Nobu Hospitality and CaesarsPalace. New York designer David Rockwell is responsible for the interiors which will feature a mix of traditional prints and design, and highlight the link between traditional Japanese and modern art.

Also opening in 2013 will be  The Nobu Hotel Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia. The property is owned by Dhaliliyah Investments, and will house a Nobu restaurant. It will be run by a joint venture called Saudi Nobu.

Michael Gross,  Morgans Hotel Group
2013 is the year that Morgans, with Michael Gross at the helm, embarks on an ambitious phase of international expansion across all its various brands. Marrakech will see the addition of Mondrian and Delano properties, the second Hudson property will open, this time in London, and Delano will also make its bow in Moscow.

But it is in Las Vegas that the most significant project is underway. For this boutique hotel brand is undertaking a project that could only ever be called boutique if measured against the scale of other hotels in the Vegas market. Morgans is taking on the management of the 43-storey, 1100-suite THEhotel on the Strip, and rebranding it as a Delano property. Teaming up with owner Mandalay Bay, Morgans aims to "add a new dimension of energy and excitement to the Las Vegas Strip".

Jon Bortz, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust
With Jon Bortz at the helm, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust spent 2012 building its portfolio into a seriously impressive holding of 25 hotels in 16 markets, with a total of more than 6,000 guest rooms. Over the last 12 months it has purchased properties in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, and enjoys close relationships with operators including Kimpton and Starwood.

Founded in 2009, Pebblebrook is a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), and will continue to add to its portfolio in 2012. It has also secured $410 million in funding for The Manhattan Collection, its joint venture with Denihan Hospitality. The JV owns six hotels in New York City comprising a total of 1,491 guest rooms. The funding will be used to to pay off existing mortgages and for general business purposes.


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