Decisions taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic have enabled RLJ Lodging Trust (NYSE: RLJ) to emerge from the crisis in a position of strength, Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, LLC, which sponsored the formation of RLJ Lodging, and the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), said.
In a video interview with Nathaalie Carey, Nareit senior vice president for industry affairs and social responsibility, Johnson applauded the efforts of RLJ Lodging President and CEO Leslie Hale, “who took the measure of the COVID crisis and managed very well through it.” As the pandemic begins to end, “we’re going to come out very strong and well-positioned to grow in the next cycle,” he said.
Johnson stressed that RLJ Lodging “always had a focus on making sure we purchased the right hotels and managed the right hotels that are compliant with our strategy” of serving leisure and business travelers.
“We wanted to make sure that our hotels were located in markets where we would find that customer flow, that airlift that brought customers there for various business or leisure type of activities, or in markets where entry was difficult so we wouldn't find ourselves facing a lot of new build,” Johnson said.
At the same time, RLJ Lodging focused on ensuring its hotels were refreshed, renovated, and spending “in the right way” to make properties comfortable and compliant with company strategy.
In addition, RLJ Lodging made sure its financials and balance sheet were structured to withstand the normal cycles of the hotel industry, or a cycle caused by an unintended event, in the case of COVID.
Johnson added that because RLJ Lodging sold off some properties and positioned itself to focus on its leverage and capital levels, the company was able to weather the financial consequences of COVID by having sufficient liquidity to keep those hotels that remained open during the crisis operating.