Carl Ridgley is a Partner at Cushman & Wakefield and leads their Hotel Valuation team. He joined the organisation in 2016 and has over two decades of experience of the hotel sector in the UK and Europe from both private and corporate practice. MRG Senior Manager, Emilia Fasano, sat down with Carl to discuss his passion for the industry, reflecting on his time at Cushman & Wakefield, and looking to the future in a post-pandemic world.
How are you? Are you enjoying the gradual return to the office?
Very well – thank you. It’s been great reconnecting with colleagues and clients. Generally speaking, our clients have started to return to their offices as well so it’s been good to reconnect with them over the last few months. Being able to do that again is really important and also an enjoyable part of the job.
The sort of people we’re meeting are from a variety of organisations such as lending institutions, investors in the marketplace, and owner/operators – the full spectrum really.
Being able to visit hotels has also been a welcome change to sitting in front of a screen at home.
You lead the C&W Hotel Valuation team, how has the past 18 months been from a market perspective?
It’s no secret that hotels have been one of the sectors that have seen a big impact due to the pandemic, but with all the challenges come opportunities and it has been encouraging to see how the market has started to adapt.
Since hotels reopened in the summer of this year there has been much more optimism and people are starting to travel; it’s looking encouraging from a trading perspective in those leisure markets. We are also starting to see an increase in investor activity which indicates the long-term prospects are positive.
As a team, our focus initially switched from transactional work to more advisory work, which was a key change for us but we are starting to see a return in acquisition work again.
What are the current key trends in the hotel market both in the UK and Internationally?
It’s an interesting question. I think all of the markets across Europe are showing signs of recovery, but the pace of recovery varies considerably. The widespread closures due to the pandemic was something no one saw coming, so the speed of recovery, particularly for leisure business, has been really encouraging – it just underpins the latent demand for travel.
We’ve also seen the forced surge in the staycation market this year, which has been leading the way while travel restrictions ruled. The evidence now is showing people are starting to look overseas for holidays and looking for the opportunity to travel again.
The key question for me is in what form will corporate travel return?
Where do you see the sector going as we continue to emerge from the Global Pandemic?
The sector will adapt to changes in travel patterns and guest requirements but there will be winners and losers. Winners will be those who are able to adapt to the new trends. I think travel patterns will change not just because of the pandemic, but because of greater environmental awareness, which will see changing travel habits, and the pandemic has perhaps helped accelerate this. Those hotels that can adapt to those changes, there’s a great future for them. As with all change, there will be casualties and those at risk will be the hotels that have not kept up with the times or where owners have under-invested or over-leveraged their debt.
From an investment point of view, our recent investor survey shows there is actually increased demand as compared to pre-pandemic, which is really encouraging and we believe reflects the mid-long term growth prospects for the hotel sector. We’re certainly starting to see more transactional activity which is keeping us busy.
Is there a certain type of hotel you see emerging, growing in the future and leading the market?
One of the trends we’re seeing is the emergence of “experience” hotels. People are moving away from bland, homogeneous hotels and are looking for something different. Those are going to be the ones to keep an eye on, that will set trends, whether that be from a leisure or business perspective.
Sustainability is also becoming a key issue and will affect all types of hotels going forward. We are seeing investors place much more importance on this when they look at hotels and those that are able to implement sustainable strategies will lead the market.
Does that affect the work you do?
You have to be mindful of future trends, and how future-proof hotels are; because we’re looking at the long-term profitability of hotels, it’s really being conscious of how hotels can adapt.
How do C&W set themselves apart from their competition both generally and in relation to the Hotel sector?
I’d like to think that at C&W we are an inclusive team that gives consistent good quality advice to our clients, underpinned by extensive market data. Our depth of experience and track records gives us unparalleled access to benchmark data.
What sets us apart is that we recognise the right advice may not always be what the client wants to hear – we are not afraid of challenging expectations and, we pride ourselves on giving the right voice. People in the business believe in our values.
What is the best part of working in a cross functional hotel business at Cushman and Wakefield?
Our team operates across three main service lines so we also have direct access to our capital markets and developing/leasing teams. Within a cross-functional team, you have access to different disciplines – we sit across from the capital markets team so we can get first-hand experience of what happening in the market and who is active. Our market insight is second to none because of our cross-functional team. What also makes it enjoyable is that you have different personalities within the team so there is never a dull moment!
You’ve been with C&W since 2016 and seen a great deal of success, what’s been your greatest career achievement to date?
Looking at my time at C&W, we have been involved in some really great projects dealing with some of the best hotels across Europe. On a personal level, being one of the team building up our market-leading reputation in the UK and establishing a connected team of scale across Europe has been really enjoyable.
What’s next for your team?
We’re still looking to grow our team and continue to be the “go to” adviser of our clients. We’re pushing forward with our recruitment drive, developing our people, and driving the business forward. We have a strong development programme here, whether that’s the graduate programme, intern programme or with qualified surveyors. One of the most rewarding parts of leading the team is seeing people develop into well-rounded professionals.
Having different disciplines and backgrounds, we really foster a different approach, with people that have a mix of backgrounds within our team. Whether they’ve come from a Real Estate or Hotel Operations background, it all helps complement the team.
Any key clients you’ve enjoyed working with lately?
We have a diverse client base. The type of advice we have been providing has been different and somewhat challenging trying to work out what is happening in the sector and how things might recover. Recently we have been working closely with Edyn, a serviced apartment operator backed by Brookfield, as they expand across Europe. That’s been interesting as that sector has been one of the winners during the pandemic because their business model is quite resilient.
Why would someone choose Hotel Valuations over any other sector?
Well, I’m probably biased because I’ve been doing this a long time. But for me, the key benefit is access to a great sector that continually evolves, you get to see unique assets and meet interesting individuals along the way. One of the things that drew me to the sector is seeing such fantastic and interesting properties, no two are the same.
From a problem-solving and intellectual point of view, the level of detail and analytics involved in hotel valuation is so interesting, it’s a dynamic sector to be a part of. You’re able to apply solutions and think about multi-faceted aspects to an appraisal.
If you’re someone who enjoys understanding the financial performance of a business, getting into detail rather than looking at one stream of income – you’ll never be bored here. The skillsets needed for this sector are quite diverse, it would suit someone who is good with numbers and has operational flare.
Interested in joining the Cushman & Wakefield Hotel Valuations team as a Surveyor / Senior Surveyor? Get in touch with Emilia to discuss opportunities at C&W further.