Q&A: Chartwell Hospitality’s founder calls winning airport’s Hilton hotel deal a signature moment in a sour year

October 21, 2020

 – Senior Reporter, Nashville Business Journal

It didn’t take long for Wednesday to deliver a dose of positivity for longtime hotel developer Rob Schaedle, a rare boost in a year where the news in his business has ranged from devastating to catastrophic.

The board of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority voted around 9:15 a.m. to award a contract to Schaedle’s Franklin-based Chartwell Hospitality. His company will build a 292-room Hilton hotel at Nashville International Airport, a project that is set to open by the end of 2023.

Schaedle called the Hilton airport project a signature moment for his company. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s it mean for morale, in this kind of year, that the airport has hired Chartwell for this project? In terms of my hotel career, it’s one of the most exciting milestones that we’ve had. We’ve been working on this for two years; it’s incredibly gratifying to be selected. This year has been incredibly challenging. We went from one of the top hotel markets in the country to one of the slowest to recover.

What does that recovery look like today? Nashville is already turning. There’s been a direct correlation since we got back to Stage 3 [of reopening]. We have a brand-new beautiful Hampton Inn & Suites in Capitol View [downtown]. Last weekend, we achieved 91% occupancy. We had been running 20% to 30%. Now, that’s for a couple of nights; I wish I could tell you that’s a weekly trend. It isn’t. But it does show you that demand is starting to percolate.

What do you need to see next? We need the business travelers to come back and we need the big groups to come back. It will probably take the next two years before things get close to normalizing again to where it was pre-Covid. But we’re not going anywhere. The airport authority is not going anywhere. We certainly are buying into what they’re doing. The underlying fundamental is Nashville, Tennessee, and I wouldn’t bet against that on any day.

You’re sounding more optimistic than when we spoke in the summer. We have 42 properties in 12 states, and you can see things happening. We all thought we’d be somewhere around 50% occupancy by September; we’ve lagged that by a month. October is normally one of the strongest hotel months in Nashville, and we’re doing over 50% in Nashville this month. That will pretty much plateau until the end of the first quarter next year. We have plenty of groups on our books, and they want to have their meetings. We think there will be a lot of pent-up demand when this thing does turn.