In fact, it’s not a time share at all, it‘s fractional ownership and the man putting his name where his brand is – is the noted hotelier Tom LaTour. The name may not be a household word – yet – but if LaTour meets his objectives, the LaTour brand will be as renown in the fractional ownership industry as Kimpton (a former association) is to the hotel industry.
Start at the Bottom
We may lecture children that when you start at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder the only available direction is up and hope the lesson is heard and learned. Clearly LaTour heard the message and took it to heart. While in high school he started washing dishes at a campus–based hotel owned by a family friend and he has never looked back. He graduated with a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Michigan State University, spent a few years with American Airlines and Amfac Hotels and then, in 1983 joined Bill Kimpton to develop the then new concept of a “boutique hotel.” In 2006 LaTour retired from his position as Chairman, President and CEO after growing the company to 45 properties.
Tired of Retirement
Finding retirement less than expected, and not totally challenged by starting and operating LaTour Vineyards where he produces barrel-fermented Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah wines, in 2008 LaTour joined with John Small and Jeff Healy to form the San Diego based LaTour Signature Group. This organization manages and markets luxury properties in the fractional ownership real estate market.
Business First; Guru Second
Although LaTour has been called the guru of fractional ownership, he prefers to see himself as a businessman who is always looking for a market niche that has not been fully addressed by others. At Kimpton he noted that the small, luxury hotel market was being ignored; new hotel development was focusing on ever-larger, cookie-cutter properties, disregarding and discounting the unique qualities that make a hotel remarkable and memorable. He realized that travelers were looking for a luxurious environment that reflected their lifestyle, combined with personalized services and developed the Kimpton Brand.
After decades in the hospitality industry he identified a market segment that had lost its edge: timeshare. Legally speaking timeshare and fractional interests (or residence clubs) are, according to Robert Webb, “fundamentally the same” as “both are shared ownership of real estate.” What differentiates one buyer from the other is their income, spending patterns, and expectations, with the fractional owner considered a high net worth consumer.
The concept of Timeshare started in the early 1970s and fractional ownership was introduced into the market in 1995, according to Ragatz Associates. This consulting group determined that in 2002, approximately 1,180 timeshare projects were available: the USA accounted for 1,250; Canada (110), Mexico (300) and the Caribbean (150). The North American market for fractional ownership however was much smaller, with only 61 existing projects (2002) in the moderate and high priced tiers which, according to Ragatz, is the “growth area in the industry.” The forecast was obviously accurate, for as of 2009 the industry included for 314 fractional interest projects and private residence clubs with 68 percent located in the USA (primarily in Colorado, California and Florida), 17 percent in Canada, six percent in the Caribbean and nine percent in Mexico.
Current LaTour Projects
LaTour Hotels & Resorts clients include Tonopalo Private Residence Club in Lake Tahoe, Calif.; El Secreto and El Caracol in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; IndoChine Resort and Villas and Grove Gardens Resort in Phuket, Thailand; and Lodge at Stillwater in Deer Valley, Utah; as well as an in-construction project, Delcanto Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico scheduled to open summer 2010. LaTour Signature Group actively operates Dewa Resort in Phuket, Thailand and has two projects in various stages of construction: The Wyoming Club in Black Hills, Wyo.; and Olamar Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
LaTour considers himself to be a “niche” player and has defined a unique part of the fractional ownership market that currently has some big brand players that include the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons. How does LaTour differentiate his brand? “LaTour properties are under 100 units, have personalized service and are attractive to families of four, earning $150,000 per year.” The LaTour projects in Asia are attracting Western and Eastern European buyers, while the Mexico properties are finding the local market very receptive to his lifestyle brand.
Not All Work
LaTour continues to be a member of the Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, and serves on the board of the REDF, an organization that provides venture capital to a selected group of non-profit organizations that focus on job training and employment.