As the company embarks on its 30th year in business, RAR Hospitality principals Robert Rauch and Cameron Lamming say they’re excited about the opportunities that lie ahead as much as they are about what they’ve accomplished.
PHOENIX—In January, RAR Hospitality will celebrate 30 years in business, but for the leadership team of CEO and Chairman Robert Rauch and COO and President Cameron Lamming, a full pipeline of projects means there’s no rest in sight—though there no doubt will be a celebration.
“We have fun every day,” Rauch said, tracing that mantra all the way back to the first deal he and Lamming did together in 2014, which started their partnership. Back then, the agreement was to renovate and turn around a hotel in Phoenix, and after that project turned out so well, Rauch said he knew he needed Lamming on board.
While there’s experience difference between the two RAR principals, they’re of the same mindset when it comes to their deal approach and strategies.
“We don’t do any deal we won’t have fun with,” Lamming said.
Today, those deals for RAR include third-party management, as well as ownership and development. The company’s portfolio includes 20 hotels comprised of 2,132 guestrooms. The majority are branded, but RAR maintains a group of six independent hotels.
History and strategy
Rauch started the San Diego-based company in 1990 after spending his early career running hotels as GM, and working in all aspects of the hotel industry, including finance, marketing, operations and training, with roles at companies including Deloitte and Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
“Before that, I started as a dishwasher,” Rauch said. “I created my career for myself by starting at the bottom, going to hotel school and becoming a GM.”
His career path led to the formation of RAR Hospitality to manage, own and develop hotels.
Lamming came to the industry after college via the Walt Disney Company, where he worked in global development for parks, resorts and cruise projects. With a knack for general real estate, he moved to investment firm Brixton Capital, where he did that first deal with Rauch.
Today, Lamming says his strategy is to grow the ownership and third-party management sides of RAR.
“If we can keep about a third of our portfolio as owned—where we’re general partners and run the deals—that’s what we want,” he said. “It’s not too many that we’re in competition with our other owner partners. It’s a good model for us.”
A healthy branded and independent mix is part of RAR’s overall strategy, Rauch said. Growing good relationships with brand executives is a big priority, and it allows the company to create properties that offer the best experiences for guests within those brands.
“I used to fight with Hilton, but now I meet with them and we talk it out,” Rauch said. “We have relationships that are great. We’ve had to get Hilton’s permission to do some of what we’ve done, but our results are good and that helps.”
Rauch cited RAR’s Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Del Mar, which has a breakfast-and-lunch deli in addition to the three-meal restaurant and lounge, where Rauch himself curates the wine list.
The company’s other brand parent companies include InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
The company is developing its first Tapestry by Hilton, which is scheduled to open in 2020 in San Diego. Also under development are a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Oceanside, California; and a Tru by Hilton in Inglewood, California.
In addition to their shared business sense, Rauch and Lamming both get equally excited talking about the power of innovation in the hotel industry, and how the industry has so much room to grow when it comes to meeting traveler needs.
“We need to collectively be better for international travelers, for one,” Rauch said. “We need to speak their language, understand their culture and serve their food.
“And with innovation, we’re nowhere near where we should be as an industry,” he added. “There’s no reason a hotel can’t be the center of the universe of the neighborhood it’s in—whether it’s locals coming in to eat and drink, or even to talk to us about needs in their homes and we can send our maintenance person to their house. Locals want to entertain? Come to our lobby. Have out-of-towners visiting? Stay at our hotel with a local friends and family rate.”
Lamming added that the industry today “has just scratched the surface of what hotels could and should be. It blows my mind when we talk about innovation as an industry, and that just means adding mid-century modern furniture to the design. That’s not innovation; it has to be a lot more than that.”
He cited personalization and automation as huge opportunities for innovation in the hotel industry. Storytelling around individual properties is another way RAR is innovating, Lamming said.
“It’s about embracing the identity of the property and creating full immersion for your guests. It’s not just saying, ‘We’re historic, so we’ll have furniture design from that era.’ It’s about telling the story of who you are.”
Rauch said that storytelling is an immersive mindset, and it involves putting in the time to build it, train staff around it and build it into every decision at the hotel.
“Every single one of our hotels has a story,” he said. “It’s the basis for the way the front-desk staff talk to guests, the way we decide what’s on the menu; it informs everything.”
As the company hits its 30-year mark, it is actively in development as an ownership partner in three hotel projects right now.
New third-party management contracts also are on the horizon, some of which are “very eclectic,” Lamming said.
“They include some leisure markets, some more downtown markets, and some brands that aren’t Hilton or Marriott, with some that may end up independent as well,” he said. “We do brand analysis on all of our deals, and we’re all about doing the right things for the right people. We’re primarily West Coast now, but as relationships build beyond that, we’re there.”
Rauch said that even though his company is turning 30, he’s not going anywhere, and sees himself moving to a more advisory role, with a strong team behind him.
“I love the relationships I have with brand people, with my employees and guests,” he said. “I’ve studied as many languages as I can so I can talk to my guests.”
As they approach the future, both Rauch and Lamming said there’s nothing they can’t do as a team.
“Between the two of us, we can hold down the fort in anything, whether it’s finance, development or management,” Rauch said.
“We’ve put together an executive team I would stack up against any management company,” he said. “They’re all creative, they all have fun and they’re all very bright. We have a diverse, multilingual company and I feel really good about the direction we are in and the direction we’re going.”