by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 6, 2011

Stephen BrandmanIt's official. This week when San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre, a long entrenched and highly individual boutique brand on the West Coast, announced it had merged with luxury lifestyle hotel company Thompson Hotels, it was as if the Little Engine that had chugged along for decades saying "I think I can" had finally breathed "I thought I could."

Tentatively called JT Hospitality, the new group -- which brings 33 Joie de Vivre hotels and 12 Thompson Hotels under one umbrella -- will be officially renamed early next year after the completion of a comprehensive joint branding process currently underway. For an insider perspective on how this new partnership will be positioned in an increasingly competitive hotel market, where fresh mergers and acquisitions are practically a daily headline, I caught up with Thompson Hotels chief executive officer and co-owner, Stephen Brandman, who has been named CEO of the new group, to be based in New York City.

Q. Why are these two companies good for each other, and why now?
"First of all, this wasn't a shotgun marriage. This is a 50/50 merger. Six months ago, Thompson Hotels started to think about opportunities to grow, and we knew we wanted a relationship that would require neither party to change its identity to seal the deal. Joie de Vivre has spent the last 25 years carefully building a unique collection of hotels primarily in Northern California. Thompson Hotels is more of a global, lifestyle brand, typically in major cities, and we are at a higher price point. Together, we will have a broader audience, which will be beneficial to both sides of the combined company.

Q. How will the merger affect the 45 properties? Will they all carry some sort of JT tag line?
"No. Each of the hotels will continue to be individuals under their respective parent company. But as an umbrella company, for now called JT Hospitality,  we can look at opportunities we could not participate in before, whether because of location or price. I can't tell you how many calls I've fielded in  the last 48 hours since this announcement was made about us getting involved in new projects and development deals. The beauty of this relationship is that we don't have properties in each other's backyards. And because we both are committed to certain specifics, such as quality, design and service standards, we compliment each other. That is what is going to make this relationship a strong, solid one.

Q. What's in it for meeting planners? Can we expect to see a loyalty program introduced next year as part of your umbrella strategy?

"There are so many possibilities, and we are thoroughly approaching all of them. We want to understand what makes sense for the individual brands as well as the parent company. Some type of rewards program will be one of the considerations on the table.

Q. Your announcement mentions expansion and the introduction of a new resort brand. When can we expect to see that happen?

"All along, as we were merging these two companies, we were thinking of how we take this relationship to the next level. We want to expand both brands, globally, through management contracts, acquisitions and mergers. That process already has begun. Thompson Hotels just added Hotel Victor in Miami Beach (formally part of Hyatt's portfolio, which will be renamed Thompson Ocean Drive), and we are getting ready to add Belgraves in London later this year. Joie de Vivre has signed management contracts in Scottsdale and Chicago, their first outside the Northern California market. But we also want to have a presence in the resort market, which is something we don't have now. Does that mean a new brand for that market? Perhaps.