LODGING recognizes dynamic executives who have helped to make a year of progress in the hotel industry. Ali Moloo, CEO of myDigital Office, is one of the people we commend and congratulate. His company has excelled in technology, management, development, and finance.

Technology | Ali Moloo: MyDigitalOffice cofounder envisioned data platform to ease hoteliers’ pain Points

The business that myDigitalOffice (MDO) CEO Ali Moloo grew up in was not hospitality, yet he helped launch a property management company while he was still attending college in Canada. Subsequently, he leveraged his experience in his family’s office supplies business into a position as CEO of one of the fastest-growing office-product companies in Canada. Then, in 2015, he cofounded MDO to help hospitality executives make data-driven decisions to improve the guest experience and operate more efficiently.

Moloo learned about the challenges faced by hoteliers from family members who had experienced pain points in the industry. He learned a lot about running a successful company from being part of his family's business and seeing his father's ability to identify future challenges for the office supplies industry. He says that they focused on people, process, and product in order to leave a smaller environmental footprint.

With an awareness of the challenges facing hoteliers and expertise in data management, Moloo co founded and launched MDO to ease some of those pain points by providing customers with centralized, digital access to all their hotel's most critical documents.

The major growth will happen in the year 2022.

He has seen the company grow since he launched it. MDO is one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States and is ranked No. 6 in the travel and hotel industry. The staff size ballooned from less than 100 team members to more than 300 in the next five years. Evolving remote work trends have allowed us to acquire top talent throughout the globe.

The first half of the year was marked by the acquisitions of Datavision and Focal Revenue. The second half of the year has been devoted to process, which he describes asintegrating these products and creating the framework for a unified data platform to empower our rapidly growing user base.

Moloo's said, "Thanks to our hotel partners and team members, we've laid the foundation for our mission to become part of the back-office technology stack in every hotel across the world."

Helping people become entrepreneurs.

Moloo says that his company has not been focused on their own success. He likes to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs through the program. The company built and offered short-staffed hoteliers a free tool to help them better forecast demand in their respective markets when the weaknesses of the manual processes used to manage hotel operations were made painfully apparent.

Management | Naveen P. Kakarla: HHM leader and his team have driven remarkable growth and stability in the company’s portfolio

Naveen Kakarla is the president and CEO of HHM (formerly known as Hersha Hospitality Management) and serves on its board of directors. HHM manages 235 hotels with a concentration in nearly all major markets across 32 states and three Canadian provinces. Kakarla is responsible for HHM’s investment and fund management, acquisitions and development, finance and accounting, human resources, and capital projects.

The Independent Collection of uniquelycurated hotels and resorts can be found in gateway markets from coast to coast. Independent, luxury, and lifestyle hotels are managed by HHM. The New York City region was headed by Kakarla in the past.

At the national law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist, P.C., Kakarla was a partner who specialized in corporate and securities law. He used to work with private equity and early stage investments.

The Sidney Kimmel Medical College is a part of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital system. He is a member of the Young Presidents' Organization as well as serving on the corporate board of the Barnes Foundation Museum.

The hotel management company won.

Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, HHM's management portfolio has nearly doubled in size. He states, "I am proudest of our ability to drive outsized results for our owners, plus our emphasis on retention and growth of our hotels, associates, and ownership relationships."

HHM has grown organically, with highly institutional owners, and kept its churn rate to less than 2% with an equally impressive relinking rate. In the past two years, we have added and lost over a dozen hotels.

The portfolio of 25 hotels was integrated in a single day. On August 1st, HHM integrated Urgo hotels and resorts into its portfolio. The portfolio included more than 50 hotels in the US and Canada. He comments, "I am proud of how our teams have welcomed theUrgo family into our company culture and expect us to build something together that neither of us could have done alone."

Texas, Florida, and California comprise its biggest state concentrations, and the company is well balanced across a variety of hotel types.

Reducing staff turnover.

They have been successful on the retention side. Through the downturn and in the year 2022. A values based and family oriented culture supports each other through good and bad times. Our focus this year has been on rebuilding our learning and development services.

Development | Mit Shah: Noble Investment Group CEO implements a two-pronged development strategy

Mit Shah is CEO of Noble Investment Group, a real estate investment management firm specializing in select-service and extended-stay travel and hospitality with more than $5 billion in investments. He founded the company some 30 years ago, but his roots in hospitality go back to childhood, when, as the son of “entrepreneurial immigrants,” he built the work ethic and reputation that have brought him recognition and success. Shah, who presently serves as an executive committee member of the board of directors for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, has received many honors, the most recent of which is the Industry Real Estate Financing Advisory Council (IREFAC) Arne Sorenson Award for outstanding leadership in the hospitality industry. And in 2023, he will be named Hospitality Executive of the Year by the Penn State School of Hospitality Management and Alumni Society.

He was clear that whatever makes money was what he was talking about. Our job as fiduciary to state pension plans, university endowments, and foundations around the world is to make decisions based on the best interests of our beneficiaries. We acquire if we make more money acquiring than developing. It's all about figuring out the best way to achieve risk-adjusted returns.

There are routes to success in development.

Noble Investment Group usually devotes 20% of its equity to new development. He explains that part of the development strategy is taking unused real estate in high-profile locations and creating first-class select-service and extended-stay hotels. A Courtyard by Marriott and Element by Westin, built last year in Midtown Atlanta, Georgia, and a new lifestyle brand that is currently being developed in the Historic District of Chatham, Georgia are examples. Noble wants to build midscale extended-stay properties which can be built to a double-digit unleveraged yield and operate at 50 percent-plus profit margins.

Shah says that new development is a core part of the DNA of the company for the past 30 years. At that time, you could build a Hampton Inn for $40,000 a room at a RevPAR of $40, which meant you could generate enough cash flow in the first year to repay your equity later. He says that they built a development business from the beginning to take advantage of the market.

Shah says the returns are still attractive even though the price tag has changed. A midscale extended-stay property can be delivered for a little over $100,000 a key, which can yield up to 90 percent of RevPAR. He says that the urban developments cost three times as much but give a worthwhile return. There is an opportunity for growth in both of these high-end city locations even in this environment.

There is fiduciary responsibility.

Shah stressed the care that Noble Investment Group takes as a steward of the funds. The kind of return we aim to achieve is a product of the right market and the right real estate. Our job is to make decisions that are in the best interest of our beneficiaries.

Finance | Mehul Patel: NewcrestImage CEO and his team achieve a record number of successful transactions

Mehul Patel began developing his passion for the hotel industry at age 17, when he and his brother, Sanjay, bought their first property — a 46-room independent hotel near Love Field Airport in Dallas, Texas, where their parents worked. The brothers then continued the business of renovating, repositioning, and reselling a variety of limited-service properties across Texas. Along the way, Patel became attracted to the problem-solving aspect of the industry, and that disposition is one of the reasons for his success.

When three sets of brothers merged their two hospitality firms, they created NewcrestImage, which today is the managing partner and CEO of the company. He has served in a number of influential roles in the hotel industry. He is a member of the brand council of AC Hotels for Marriott International, Hyatt Place and Hyatt House for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, and the Hampton Inn & Suites forHilton Worldwide. Thirty hotels are owned and operated by NewcrestImage. The company has completed more than $3 billion in transactions involving more than 200 hotels and 25,000 hotel rooms.

There was a year of unprecedented activity.

Since the Pandemic, NewcrestImage has focused on investment and has contracted with Aimbridge to manage it. This year the company achieved great success. The largest number of transactions we've done in our history has been achieved this year. Our relationship with the lending community allows us to get debt and equity at reasonable rates. We have been able to move forward with a lot of transactions this year. The highlights are listed.

  • In January, NewcrestImage purchased nine hotels in Arizona from G6 Hospitality—six branded Motel 6 and three branded Studio 6.
  • In July, the company entered a definitive agreement with a joint venture between Highgate and Cerberus to acquire four LaQuinta-branded properties, totaling 696 rooms. The properties include the LaQuinta Inn & Suites at Los Angeles International Airport, marking NewcrestImage’s first gateway location in California.
  • In September, NewcrestImage reached a definitive agreement to purchase 45 hotels from a private investment firm. The portfolio totals approximately 3,300 rooms and includes 35 Marriott-branded, seven Hilton-branded, two Choice-branded, and one Radisson-branded property, located in 11 states. n Also in September, NewcrestImage and Hospitality Capital Partners announced the acquisition of 16 Marriott-branded hotels with a total of 2,155 rooms in nine states. Aimbridge will be managing the properties.

It is possible to make the hotels more successful by acquiring them. Every time we buy a hotel, we have to think outside the box and look at the investment opportunity differently than the previous owners did. If someone has mismanagement at a property, we deep dive into it to fix it. A laser focus can tell where the problem is. That's been our secret sauce.

The approach is team approach.

A team effort is required to close deals. The chief investment officer team and my partners are part of the group. It is all or nothing when we get a deal. We all win as a group. The project is the boss, despite the fact that he is the CEO. The project dictates the terms, the time commitment, the money, and every aspect of the team's operation.