Hotels hit by coronavirus scramble for concessions from lenders

The hotel industry has been struggling as the coronavirus shutdown keeps most travelers at home. Marriott (MAR) now says its North American occupancy is down to 10%, with a 23% decline in global revenues in the first quarter.

Figures like that have hotel operators working closely with lenders to try to find common ground, including delaying payments and restructuring some agreements.

Monty Bennett, the CEO of hotel operators Ashford (AHT) and Braemar (BHR), told Yahoo Finance that most lenders are working with him to cut deals. His REITs operate 130 hotels across the United States and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, under brands including Marriott, Hilton (HLT), Hyatt (H) and Ritz-Carlton.

“We’ve got a number of hotels and then loans against them. And the loans we have with traditional banks, those banks are doing great with us,” Bennett told Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi. “They understand that this is a once in a lifetime event.”

But he claimed one lender, Brookfield Property Group, part of Brookfield Asset Management (BAM), of being “hostile” and “threatening” towards his directors and being unwilling to negotiate. He detailed his company’s response in an SEC filing.

Brookfield denies this.

“We are working with all of our hospitality borrowers to restructure their loans in order to reduce their debt service burden during this unprecedented time,” a Brookfield spokes person said in an email to Yahoo Finance. “We have attempted to engage with Ashford in a similar manner.”

“Our only stipulation was that they return the $15 million they removed from their operating accounts in March,” they added. “These funds should be returned to ensure the hotels and their employees have access to essential operating capital, rather than their stated intention to distribute that capital to shareholders.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 8: An aerial view shows a hotel with windows illuminated in the shape of a heart as coronavirus infections accelerate in Los Angeles, California on April 8, 2020. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

“They’re just going for a money grab,” Bennett told Yahoo Finance. “We might as well just turn over our whole company to them. They’re definitely trying to take advantage of a terrible situation. Shame on them.”

Brookfield, in a letter to Ashford, said it was “willing to have discussions” and hoped to “quickly bring these discussions to a conclusion” so the company could return to operating its hotels and taking care of its employees.

Bennett also said he was hopeful that they could reach a deal.

“I’d love to reach a deal. I’ve got as long as they do,” he said. “They’re treating this as if it’s a regular economy, not like we’re in a national emergency. It’s sad.”

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