Leisure surely suffered the impact of the global pandemic, however users' strong will to travel has captured the attention of investors and operators, whom are preparing for the great restart in 2022/2023.
The summer just gone has taught us that the desire to travel has not disappeared; on the contrary, leisure users took full advantage of the season and the greater health security offered by the vaccine to even travel outside their own country, at least in Europe.
And that’s not all. The reopening of the US borders to international travellers, including Europeans, fully vaccinated with formulations approved and authorised by the FDA, also points to a resumption of international tourist flows during the autumn and winter seasons as well.
Therefore, if, on the one hand, business flows could have different trajectories also due to corporate optimisations, on the other hand, the potential exists for very solid recovery on the vacation front. This potential is not going unnoticed by investors and operators, as also demonstrated by the trend in transactions concluded in recent months both in Italy and elsewhere. It was actually in August, with the acquisition of Apple Leisure Group for $2.7 billion, that Hyatt confirmed its focus primarily on leisure and secondly on European expansion strategies with the introduction of the all-inclusive format in Spain.
In Italy, next to the classic tourist destinations of the great cities of art, one can already sense a rediscovery of the mountains. A great boon in the pandemic period thanks to their open spaces and less crowded than the seaside areas, and perhaps penalised with regard to the ski season by last winter’s difficulties, this segment is now certainly ready for the 2022/2023 restart thanks to clear rules since the end of September.
Several transactions have already been noted on the market, partly driven also by the prospect of the 2026 Winter Olympics, but with a clear intention to work on maintaining stable flows. After the entry of the private equity fund Attestor Capital in the Hotel Cristallo in Cortina in Q2, in the same location, at the beginning of October, Quinta Capital SGR, on behalf of the Grand Investments fund, acquired the Grand Hotel Savoia and Savoia Palace hotels in Cortina d'Ampezzo from Aquileia Capital Services, a company headed by Bain Capital Credit, through Fincos Finanziaria Costruzioni S.p.A. for a total value of €70 million. The market has perceived these as pioneering transactions, also in the change of management perspective, which in Italy is still completely characterised by the family approach.
The Spanish Market
If we look at Spain, which is also witnessing a busy 2021, we know that there is a more structured tradition of hotel chains than, for example, the 36% penetration of chains in the Italian luxury segment (with 53% of branded rooms), which have allowed them to exploit the potential of international networks and consolidated management models for years. At the same time, their first half of the year, which saw investments of €1,094 million against the total €955 million of 2020, was characterised by disposals by hotel chains and a concentration in prime destinations such as Madrid, Barcelona, the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and Costa del Sol with a greater weight in the urban segment (59% vs 41% of the "vacational") and some high-quality transactions with exceptionally low yields.
The Italian Market
In Italy, in the first nine months of the year, with a volume of investments close to €800 million, the hotel asset class accounted for 15% of total investments. These are smaller numbers than in Spain, but one can see that, beyond the 2019 record, hotel investments stood at about 10% in the past. Looking at the prime destinations, the trend of interest in Venice is confirmed, with some difficulties in Rome due to the identification of suitable products and rather high asking prices.
Focusing on investors, 72% are foreign, generally from the Eurozone, as confirmed by the deals closed in Milan and Venice. In recent years, Rome has continued to attract a lot of domestic capital, while the Florence opportunities have also seen the Middle East and the East as key players, as in the case of the sale of the Castelfalfi estate by TUI to the Indian chemicals magnate family Lohia.
Renewed Interest for secondary destinations
If the mountains and Winter Olympics are warming up the Alpine scenarios, we must not forget the interest aroused by maritime destinations with luxury and extra-luxury potential which were once off the radar of foreign investors: as in the case of Four Seasons, which will open a 150-room facility in the Puglia region, about 40 km from Ostuni, or Belmond, which in the same area bought the Veronesi family’s Masseria Le Taverne, to turn it into the first extra-luxury resort in Ostuni.
Another Apulian hotel, the Acaya Golf Resort, will also be relaunched soon, and an international operator with a major focus on the management of worldwide golf resorts such as MIRA Hotels & Resorts, will give its support with a view to internationalisation.
Moving on to the Italian Riviera, Belmond, which already owns the Splendido and the Splendido Mare hotels, has completed its trio in Portofino with the autumn acquisition of Villa Beatrice.
And if the sea, which recorded excellent occupancy levels in the summer of 2021, is confirming its potential and the mountains are taking more and more space also in view of the 2026 Winter Olympics in Cortina, there is no less interest in the lakes, first and foremost Lake Como, already so greatly loved by tourists from the United States and Northern Europe.
At the end of October, the confirmation of the purchase of the Hotel Britannia Excelsior in Cadenabbia for redevelopment into a 5-star hotel by Bain Capital highlighted a possible trend also in this geographical area, where other transactions will certainly follow in the coming months.