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Opinion: Hammons follows his own rules of development

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With reports of living hotel legend “John Q.” suffering a health setback, I’d like to take a look at his illustrious career.

John Q. Hammons has been on a unique and singular track for 90 years and has become one of the great hoteliers and developers of our time.

Hammons received the prestigious 2007 American Lodging Investment Summit Lifetime Achievement Award, one of several significant honors. Others include Springfield Business Journal’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement in Business Award in 2000, and more recently, Hilton Hotels Corp.’s Hilton Family Lifetime Achievement Award and the Distinguished Citizen Award from Boy Scouts of America. During his more than 50-year hotel career, he has developed 210 hotel properties in 40 states. But the statistics hide the essence of Hammons’ special development techniques. Hammons disdains the standard feasibility studies when assessing potential sites for hotel development. Instead, he relies on his own experience, knowledge and intuition. He builds only in secondary and tertiary markets.

My special appreciation and insight arises out of my 2006 visit to Springfield and Branson July 11–13, 2006, to interview Hammons and his executives in preparation for writing my book, “Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry.”

Among the things I learned, Hammons develops hotels by at least five major rules:

1. Pick the right location.

2. Know the market.

3. Use a five-point approach to evaluate potential locations:
  • Evaluate economic conditions and the flow of money in the community.
  • Look at the history of the banks.
  • Consider if the people in the city are conservative or aggressive in their saving habits.
  • Find out if the city’s administration is progressive and favorable to business.
  • Determine the quality of schools in the community.
4. Build the best hotels.

5. Hire great people.

When Hammons built the five-star Chateau on the Lake in Branson, he said, “The banks thought I was over the edge and gone. Put a hotel like that in Branson territory? You’re out of your mind. So when we finished, we had $60 million in cash in it, and I couldn’t get a loan. I went ahead and opened. Four months later, I got a loan for $35 million.”

Hammons bought the land some 28 years before building the hotel on it – long before Branson was the tourist destination it is today.

Was Hammons right? Consider the following:
  • Roughly 7 million people drive into Branson each year to attend the 50 theaters and live shows.
  • Compared to Las Vegas and New York, Branson is the live-entertainment center of the nation.
  • Branson is a $1 billion tourist Mecca and the No. 1 motor coach destination of the decade.
Located on the shores of Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo, Branson is a popular tourist destination.

The Chateau is the best hotel in Branson, by far. The Chateau has a full-service marina with everything from jet skis to ski boats, scuba diving, fishing and other water sports.

Hammons loves to tell the story of when Walter Cronkite visited the Branson Chateau property. He asked Cronkite what he thought of the property. “He told me ‘I can’t believe this hotel; I’ve been all over the world, and it ranks at the top.’”

Simply put, Hammons has built communities, not just hotels.

Stanley Turkel is a hotel-industry consultant specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services. A lecturer and emeritus member of the board of advisers at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, Turkel can be reached at stanturkel@aol.com.
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