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Brace Yourself For Hotel Merger Mania

One sure sign an industry is trending upward is an increase in mergers and acquisitions activity. Given the lodging industry’s stellar performance over the last 18 months, it’s no surprise, then, that merger mania is about to break out in the hotel business.

Blackstone, the serial hotel company acquirer, fired the first shot in this latest round of merger fever with yesterday’s announcement that it will purchase Motel 6. The private equity company, which also owns Hilton, La Quinta and Extended Stay Hotels, paid $1.9 billion to Accor for Motel 6, its 556 owned properties, the franchise system and the nearly invisible Studio 6 extended-stray brand. The deal made a lot of sense on both sides of the negotiating table. For months, Paris-based Accor has said it wants to cut debt and shed some of its non-core businesses and brands to focus on building its stable of other flags in Europe, Latin America and everyone’s target market, Asia-Pacific. As mentioned, Blackstone loves the hotel industry and, unlike many companies in this business, isn’t afraid to own lodging real estate.

So what companies may be next to be sold? Two potential candidates are Red Lion Hotels and Gaylord Entertainment. Management at the two companies have given both subtle and overt cues to their intentions to “unlock shareholder value,” the favored euphemism for “please buy us and take us out of our misery.” While that’s not necessarily the case here, both companies present challenges to potential acquirers.

In recent years, Red Lion hasn’t been able to build a convincing growth story for either investors or potential franchisees. The company had solid earnings in the first quarter, yet it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar as the next hotel brand with momentum. Choice Hotels, which covets a brand in the upscale lodging arena, could be a possible suitor if it could find a partner to take the company’s real estate off its hands.

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