• Smith Travel buys stake in The Bench

Merger mania hit the world of hotel benchmarking last week as Smith Travel Research, the US goliath, took an equity stake in European upstart The Bench.

The deal is a response to desire by the big US hotel operators to get to grips with international markets and give them access to uniform reports globally.

STR is the definitive source of data both for hotel operators and the wider investment community in North America. The terms of the deal will see The Bench adopt the presentational approach of STR and see STR move into providing investment professionals outside the US with data sets comparable to those currently seen in the US.

The future of STR’s existing relationship with Deloitte’s HotelBenchmark service remains unclear but it is hard to see how it can continue for long given the much closer ties STR has now forged with The Bench. The new union is such that The Bench will adopt a new moniker that reflects the STR relationship.

Deloitte remains the leader in the provision of benchmarking data outside the US with around 5,000 hotels. The Bench currently has 2,800 on its books but is targeting some 4,000 by the end of 2007.

The Bench will remain majority controlled by Jonathan Worsley, one of the co-founders of the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin as well as a part owner of the equivalent event in the Middle East, the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.

Other investors in The Bench include founder Per Lydmar and the company’s managing director Jamie Chappell.

The main focus of The Bench over its first five years of existence has been to provide a revenue management system for subscribers. But now STR is set to beef up its reporting style to feed into senior hotel management and external members of the investment community. These new style reports will be adopted over the next two years, driven primarily by the needs of the US operators.

The Bench’s deal to supply UK consultancy PKF with data, struck at the beginning of this year, remains unaffected by the latest transaction.

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