The hospitality industry was amongst the hardest hit during the pandemic, with many operators shuttering their entire portfolio and pausing expansion plans that have yet to resume.
That wasn’t the case for Montage International.
The Laguna Beach-based hotel management firm nearly doubled its portfolio over the past 18 months to 13 hotels, from seven at the onset of the pandemic.
“The strength of our brand and the strength of the markets we’re in has put us in a great position,” Montage founder and Chief Executive Alan Fuerstman told the Business Journal.
Montage also seemed to fare better with another pervasive industry headwind: labor.
The company’s flagship property, the 259-room Montage Laguna Beach, is fully staffed with 600 employees.
Much of the company’s ongoing success is due to steadfast guidance from Fuerstman, who has kept the same vision for the firm since founding the company two decades ago. That vision now extends to several Fuerstman family members; three of four children now count positions with the company.
More may be on the way.
“I have four grandchildren, and they spend a lot of time at Montage Laguna Beach,” Fuerstman said. “It’s such a joy for me to see them as immersed in hotels as my children were at their age.”
Montage International was one of five honored at the Business Journal’s 23rd Family-Owned Business Awards held on June 2 at the Irvine Marriott. It’s the second time Fuerstman’s won a Business Journal award; he picked up an Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award in 2002.
After several decades in the hospitality industry, Fuerstman set off to start his own hotel venture in the early 2000s—in the wake of 9/11—with the goal of creating a new brand that rethought the way guests perceived luxury. An investment team led by Ohana Real Estate Investors—headed at the time by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar—acquired the site that would become Montage’s flagship property in Laguna Beach.
“It was the right resort at the right time, and we got off to an amazing start,” Fuerstman said.
Fuerstman has now led Montage through three significant market downturns.
He didn’t let the pandemic stop his plans or creativity. In 2020, he launched Montage Academy, a back-to-school program for resort guests that offered access to an all-day monitored study hall and educational programs for guests ages 6 to 17, including a range of afternoon elective activities from yoga to hiking, art to cooking and woodshop to conservation. It also gave “a much-needed break” to parents.
Experience, and the established Montage brand led the team through the latest downturn, perhaps the most severe of them all.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate that our portfolio of hotels and resorts performed well over the past two years, and the market is now coming back stronger than before,” Fuerstman said.
The six new hotels include two Montage resorts and four Pendry properties, a spinoff boutique brand that skews a bit younger in terms of market share.
Fuerstman’s son, Michael Fuerstman, heads that effort, which is expected to continue to grow at a faster clip than Montage in the coming years.
“There are more markets that better support the Pendry brand,” Fuerstman said.
Fuerstman’s two daughters, Heather Fuerstman and Jessica Fuerstman Byrne, are also involved in the company. After working for Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Heather joined Montage last year on the residential side of the business; Jessica, who once worked as a pastry chef in Montage’s studio restaurant, now works with the communications team.
“I live and breathe hotels, and I have that same passion for my family as well,” Fuerstman said. “I didn’t push any of them into the company, they all joined on their own.
“I’m so grateful to have their perspective—they’re always honest, which is great for quality control,” he added jokingly.
The newest hotel to open was the Pendry Park City in February. The Pendry Washington D.C. will open this summer, marking the portfolio’s 14th hotel.
Another six hotels are in various stages of development.
Next year, Montage plans to open three hotels, including the Pendry Newport Beach, the first property for the brand in Orange County.
Montage partnered with Eagle Four Partners in the deal; the Newport Beach company acquired the former Fashion Island Hotel earlier this year for $144 million from Irvine Co.
The property is undergoing an extensive revamp and will debut as the 295-room Pendry Newport Beach next year.
For Fuerstman, who honed his hospitality chops at the Newport Beach Marriott from 1979 to 1984, the new hotel marks a return to Newport Beach.
“Coming back to Newport Beach with this hotel feels a lot like coming home,” Fuerstman said. “Eagle Four has been a great partner, and together, we’re going to make something very special.”
Eagle Four also owns the Newport Beach Marriott; it recently rebranded the 532-room property into the Vea Newport Beach.
Other Montage properties slated to open next year include the Montage La Quinta and Pendry Residences Natirar in New Jersey.
Projects are in the works for Tampa, Mexico and the Caribbean.
“I knew when we launched in Laguna Beach that we had unbelievable potential, and if we stayed laser-focused on quality, we had the opportunity to grow and create a truly special brand,” Fuerstman said.