April 29, 2011 in Business

Spokane family relocates to globalize hotel business

By The Spokesman-Review
File photo

Melissa and Thomas Magnuson stand outside the historic building on East Mission Avenue that serves as headquarters for their Magnuson Hotels.
(Full-size photo)

Like many other Inland Northwest families, the Magnusons were planning to watch this morning’s wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William from their couch.

But their couch is in London, just 10 minutes up the Thames River from the epicenter of the day’s pageantry at Westminster. The Magnusons – Tom, Melissa and son Frankie – moved to the United Kingdom last August to establish a foothold for Magnuson Hotels, which provides reservation services to independent hoteliers.

Tom Magnuson said Thursday the city had been scrubbed and festooned with flags, with neighborhood streets like his own blocked off for partying.

“It’s really pretty, and very dramatic,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

He said Magnuson’s five London affiliates were booked up for the wedding. But he noted the city’s hotels always are heavily booked. The average occupancy rate – 85 percent – is the world’s highest.

In a 2,000-year-old city, Magnuson said, the joke is the best hotel locations were taken 500 years ago.

He said Magnuson Hotels soon will sign its 100th U.K. property, a fraction compared with its 2,000 U.S. affiliates.

“We’ve really just been spending our time fine-tuning our platform for growth,” which will include adoption of smartphone applications that allow owners to run their hotels from anywhere, Magnuson said.

The technology will be available to Magnuson Hotels everywhere, he said.

With the 2012 Olympics looming, the company is pushing to add as many as 650 affiliates in the next year in the U.K., in Ireland and on the Continent, he said.

Magnuson, who returns to the company’s Spokane headquarters every five weeks, said the company he and Melissa founded in their basement has learned a lot in the extremely competitive London market.

In the United States, he said, many hotel owners are passive investors who let others manage the properties. Hotels and inns in Britain may have been owned and operated by the same family for generations, he said.

“Their expectations are pretty high,” Magnuson said. “You want to be sure to meet them.”

For the family, and the company, the London move is working out well, he said.

“We’ve been very happy with our decision,” Magnuson said.

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