Hotel Operator Strikes Deal to Unify Indian Resort Reservations

By ANDY FIXMER
Staff Reporter

In an effort to tap into the rapidly expanding Indian gaming market, Luxe Worldwide Hotels LLC has signed an agreement with the National Indian Business Association to form Native American Hotels and Resorts.

The entity proposes to link member tribal hotels to a global reservation system in exchange for a monthly $300 fee, plus $12 per booking. The service would also collect 10 percent of room revenue from group bookings of 10 or more people.

Of the 102 luxury hotels built by Native American tribes across the U.S., with a total of more than 18,000 rooms, fewer than 20 percent are affiliated with a national brand.

"They realize they are behind in that area now and they realize there is an incredible potential they are missing out on," said Efrem Harkham, president and chief executive of L.A.-based Luxe. "They are independent and they want to retain their identity. That's what the majority of what our members want. That's why they don't join the large companies."

No hotels have yet joined the system, but Harkham was confident the imprimatur of the National Indian Business Association would smooth the process.

Carl Winston, director of the hospitality and tourism management program at San Diego State University, said that while most casino hotels in Las Vegas or Atlantic, N.J. are busy all week long, tribal-owned hotels tend to fill up only on weekends and holidays because they don't book conventions.

"Right now many of them are operated as independents and they don't get a lot of attention from the traditional media," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of PKF Consulting. "They are having trouble establishing themselves as credible hotels when they really are."

Luxe Worldwide, which owns the Luxe Rodeo and the Luxe Sunset hotels, has grown its referral network to hundreds of boutique hotel properties, most having fewer than 200 rooms, stretching from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia.

"It's a different market than their boutique hotel market, but linking these things up and having a national reservations system is a good idea," Baltin said.

Winston is not as convinced Luxe's gamble will pay off. San Diego County is home to four tribal-owned casinos, one of the highest concentrations in the country. Winston said each hotel is different, and establishing a brand would be difficult.

"The notion of creating brands within those is certainly something I would question," he said. "When you stay at a Hilton you know about what to expect, but with these hotels there's a consistency issue and a trust issue."

At the same time, not having a nationally branded hotel can be advantageous to tribes, by keeping their costs down and allowing them more flexibility in offering cultural programs.

"To be a Hyatt or Hilton you have to go by a number of brand standards that may not be palatable to a tribe," said Sean Hennessey, director of the hospitality consulting practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers. "That level of uniformity, desirable for some companies, may not fit with what the Native American facilities are trying to accomplish."

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