|By Kimberly Pierceall, The
Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 21, 2009--In a hallway of the recently opened Ayres Hotel in Chino Hills, James E. Roos pointed to the black-and-white photos that told the story of the Ayres family who arrived in California in 1904 to build homes first, and hotels later -- the same photos on display in each of the company's 20 Southern California hotels.
Roos, president of Ayres Hotels, had helped open hundreds of the first Hampton Inn and Candlewood Suites properties when the two brands first started. Now, he's overseeing Ayres' expansion, a 25 percent increase in size in five years with nearly half of its hotels within the Inland region.
It's a company still owned and run by the Ayres family that revels in the traditional with an Old World European look inside its lobbies.
"We think it's a timeless design. There are hotels in Europe that have been in business for hundreds of years and they still have that decor. Probably, most importantly, we think it sets us apart," he said.
Q: What was it like going from opening 300 hotels for Hampton Inn and 117 for Candlewood to leading Ayres, which is much smaller?
A: It was an opportunity to return to the details of day-to-day operations. At Candlewood, I had a complaint department. Here, I am the complaint department.
Q: Eight of the company's 20 hotels in Southern California are in the Inland region, with another set to open next year in Moreno Valley. Why has there been a focus on the Inland region?
A: The availability of land, and we've had success there.
Q: The owners of another hotel in Ontario -- the Marriott Ontario Airport -- recently agreed to give it back to their lenders instead of making payments. Also, passenger traffic coming into the airport has continued to decline. Has Ayres felt the impact at its four hotels there?
A: It's been very, very challenging for everyone; we're included. But someone borrowed too much money, and if they have too much debt then they can't make the payment. We're set up to deal more effectively with these tough times. We're very conservative. ... At least a significant number of the hotels are either in default, have defaulted or are near default. We're not. We'll be just fine. In fact, we've got some improvements going on. At the first of the year, we'll do a complete remodeling of the Ayres Inn & Suites at the (Ontario) Mills Mall and I expect we'll be following with more refurbishment in one or more of the hotels. When the economy is down, it's the perfect time to renovate because you've got vacant rooms.
Q: Has Ayres forecast when the economy might improve?
A: There has been no improvement in the hotel industry in Southern California since it began to decline in spring of 2008. ... Typically the hotel industry follows the rest of the economy by six months. So you see the stock market picking up because they think things are getting better. If they're right, then six months from now the hotel economy will begin to improve. How much improvement is the big question. At this point, we'd just like to see the decline stop. What we do believe is the Inland Empire -- Moreno Valley in particular, which has been hardest hit -- will have the greatest growth, probably, in the entire United States when the economy improves. And Ayres will be there.
Reach Kimberly Pierceall at 951-368-9552 or kpierceall@PE.com
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