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Charleston's Francis Marion Leaves Westin Brand; Expanding Marketing Partnership with
Historic Hotels of America
By John P. McDermott, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 
Nov. 28, 2002 --The Francis Marion and Westin Hotels & Resorts Worldwide are parting ways after almost five years. The historic downtown property will return to independent status starting Jan. 1, when the well-known Westin brand name will be removed from the marquee. 

"We'll be staffing up our own reservations department and handling things more directly," said Steven Dopp, a partner with owner FMH LP. At the same time, 

  Built in 1924, the Hotel was Named
for the Revolutionary War hero
Francis Marion
the hotel will strengthen its marketing arrangement with Historic Hotels of America. The changes have no effect on the ownership or management of the 226-room property, Dopp said. 

He called the split "a friendly parting of the ways" between FMH and Westin' s owner, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., that has been in the works for about 18 months. 

Like the Francis Marion itself, Westin was an independent operator when it added the King Street hotel to its stable of third-party franchisees in early 1998. In exchange for a fee, Westin gave the newly reopened hotel some extra marketing muscle and access to an international reservations system. 

Westin was acquired by industry behemoth Starwood that same year, leading to changes within the company that didn't mesh with FMH's strategy for the property, Dopp said. He said the decision to end the franchise agreement was made easier because the Francis Marion staff, not Westin, handles most of the group bookings, which account for 60 percent of the hotel's business. 

"Since the Westin acquisition by Starwood, the company has been going in a different direction that we didn't think was right for the Francis Marion because of our group business," Dopp added, declining to elaborate. "We felt it would be better for the asset long-term if we returned the hotel to independent status." By going solo again, FMH also eliminates a major expense -- franchise fees -- although it will have to spend money to take over the functions that Westin now handles. 

"It frees up additional cash to be reinvested in the hotel," said Dopp. He noted that his company is spending $500,000 this winter on improvements to a ballroom, the elevators and guest rooms, including the creation of a presidential suite. 

While the Francis Marion lowers the Westin flag, it also is expanding its marketing partnership with Historic Hotels of America, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Washington, D.C.-based group helps promote about 190 historically significant lodging properties around the world. The Francis Marion originally opened in 1924 at King and Calhoun streets. Shuttered after Hurricane Hugo, it was reopened by Dopp's company in 1996 after a $12 million renovation. 

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(c) 2002, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HOT, 


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