Skift Take

Adding someone as experienced as Frits van Paasschen to its board is a sure sign that Sonder is serious about making a big leap forward in 2020.

Frits van Paasschen, the former CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, is joining the board of alternative accommodations brand Sonder as the company pushes ahead with ambitious plans for 2020.

Van Paasschen has been advising the company on an informal basis for a number of months, but his new role firms up the relationship.

“I first met Francis and went to Sonder about two and a half years ago and was very impressed by him, his vision, and the business model. And over the course of the last couple of years since then have maintained a dialogue, and it just seemed like the right time and a great opportunity to join the board,” Van Paasschen told Skift

Van Paasschen sees his role as one offering a certain perspective on the lodging industry, especially relating to how companies operate as they grow.

Getting someone of Van Paasschen’s stature is an indication of Sonder’s intentions. It announced last year a $225 million Series D funding round, bringing the total raised to $360 million.

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“Frits is one of the world’s most respected leaders in business and hospitality bar none, and I couldn’t be more excited that he’s joining our Board,” Francis Davidson, Sonder CEO and co-founder, said in a statement.

Speaking at last year’s Skift Short-Term Rental Summit, Davidson outlined the company’s grand ambitions.

“We think there could be a globally recognized brand that operates hotels and apartments and villas and any accommodation category,” he said.

“And so I think what we’re trying to achieve, our aim is to be the next-generation Marriott or Hilton and not simply be a trend or a short-term rental operator but rather to rethink the entire hospitality business from a consumer perspective but thinking through how tech can reshape its operations.”

Van Paasschen’s Track Record

Van Paasschen was president and CEO of Starwood for eight years until his abrupt resignation in 2015. Marriott later that year announced it was buying the company for $12.2 billion.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Van Paasschen has taken up a number of part-time roles since his Starwood departure. He is on the board at CitizenM hotels and is chairperson of flexible meeting and working space company Convene.

“I’ve spent the last few years working with a number of companies that I feel are very strong disruptors or incumbent companies that are coping very well in a rapidly changing world, and this (the Sonder board role) fits very much in the theme of both of those,” Van Paasschen said.

Van Paasschen joins a board that includes Davidson and representatives of four other Sonder investors.

Sonder’s business model is a cross between a serviced apartment and a hotel. The company, which is active in 28 cities with 14,300 units signed, works with developers to lease floors or full buildings, designs them, then offers them for booking either direct or on the likes of Expedia and Airbnb.

Taking on big leases can be risky, especially if the economy in any of its markets worsens. Sonder, however, said it has enough flexibility built into the arrangements.

“I think it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you that the traditional hotel companies have been slow to change in the face of a landscape and a set of consumer expectations that are rapidly changing,” Van Paasschen said.

“(In) any respect the inability of the larger hotel companies to respond on the one side and the idiosyncratic disparate nature of many peer-to-peer lodging offers on the other side have left in the middle a great white space, which I believe Sonder is uniquely positioned to be able to enter and be a leader in.”

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Tags: alternative accommodations, short-term rentals, sonder

Photo credit: Frits van Paasschen, Sonder's new board member. Van Paasschen was formerly CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Sonder

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