by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | January 22, 2015

Royal Sonesta Hotel HoustonBack in 2012, Sonesta International Hotel Corp. was sold to Newton, Mass.-based Hospitality Properties Trust for $174 million. What followed was two years of complete radio silence on the former Boston-based brand, which traces its roots to 1944. Such a sabbatical is unusual in the hotel industry, where companies like to brag about everything from acquisitions and renovations to the latest inspirational cocktail being served in the lobby lounge. So, when The Hotel Insider received a recent invitation to attend a reception thrown by the Sonesta Collection, I was intrigued. And now I am happy to report that not only is Sonesta very much alive and growing, it is ready for its close-up.

"This is a very exciting time for Sonesta. We have spent a long time embracing who we are and preparing for this year, which is going to be a big year for us," said Carlos Flores, who just days before had been appointed SIHC's president and chief executive officer. It turns out that over the past two years, as Sonesta focused on brand alignment, it was quietly undertaking a series of massive hotel renovations and purging those properties that were no longer a good fit. "These weren't lipstick makeovers," Flores told me. "These were full, multimillion-dollar remodeling projects to ensure our hotels were in alignment with our aspirations for the brand, and we are now in the tail end."

The Sonesta Collection consists of five distinct brands, two of which —  Royal Sonesta Hotels and Sonesta Hotels & Resorts — are its meeting brands. According to Mark Sherwin, executive vice president of operations, groups represent 38 percent of Sonesta's overall business, with the company relying heavily on third-party providers to supplement its sales force. The portfolio has grown from just three in 2012 to 26, and this summer, the company will open its first new-build, the 196-room Sonesta Bee Cave Hotel in Austin, Texas, which features 8,000 square feet of meeting space. As Sherwin noted at the reception, Sonesta is eager to plant its flag in major gateway cities such as Chicago and New York City as part of a commitment to restore the brand's U.S. presence.

Royal Sonesta Hotel New OrleansBut even as Sonesta has regrouped and unveiled a new logo, website and marketing campaign, planners will still find core tenets of the brand, in particular its destination-centric design; a commitment to locally sourced, sustainable foods on its menus; and a program to showcase the works of local artists throughout its properties. At the Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans on Bourbon Street, that means turning the spotlight on the city's rich jazz music heritage. The hotel's new Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse lounge is run by the Grammy award-winning jazz trumpeter and bandleader, who has been serving as the city's cultural ambassador since 2003.

"We are ready and fueled and coming out with a roar," said Sherwin. I say, welcome back to the hospitality game.