Aimbridge Hospitality Names Industry Veteran as New CEO

Craig Smith is expected to leverage decades of deep operational experience and proven leadership with Marriott International to solidify North Texas-based Aimbridge's position as the frontrunner in comprehensive, performance-backed hotel operations.

Craig S. Smith has been named chief executive officer by Plano-based Aimbridge Hospitality, effective March 18.

In joining Aimbridge, the company said Smith is expected to leverage decades of deep operational experience and proven leadership with Marriott International to solidify the company’s position as the frontrunner in comprehensive, performance-backed hotel operations.

“Aimbridge’s reputation as a trusted global hotel operator and the team’s desire to outperform at every turn is what excites me about taking on the CEO role,” Smith said in a statement.

Smith sees significant potential in enhancing Aimbridge’s services to deliver superior results and expand the brand globally. Moving forward, he said he plans to focus on operational efficiency, centered around empowering general managers. The strategy aims to maximize the company’s scale, creating substantial value for Aimbridge and its partners.

Additionally, Smith emphasized a strong commitment to nurturing industry talent, focusing on recruitment, development, and training to support the upcoming generation’s growth in the hospitality field.

The new CEO plans to double down on the company’s commitment to “recruit, develop and train the best people in the industry, including helping the next generation of talent thrive.”

Leadership experience aimed at growth

Smith began his hospitality career in hotel operations and quickly rose to become a multi-time, award-winning general manager before being tapped for top executive spots in several international markets, culminating with his rise to lead the entire international business prior to his retirement from the brand, Aimbridge said.

As group president and managing director—international, Smith was responsible for the fastest-growing division of the world’s largest hospitality company, and:

  • Oversaw more than 2,500 hotels worldwide – two-thirds of which were brand-managed—across 28 iconic brands in 136 countries and territories.
  • Led a diverse workforce of more than 230,000 hotel and regional support center associates with direct responsibility for operations, development, brand acquisitions, sales and marketing, legal, and human resources across the entire international business.
  • Spearheaded the realignment and resourcing of the company’s international markets, including reorganizing the division into four autonomous regions, resulting in faster growth and $23 billion in sales.
  • Provided direct oversight of four International Presidents and their teams with proven results in driving best-in-class topline growth, GOP, guest satisfaction, and associate culture.
  • Served as lead strategist for Marriott’s global growth plan and managed a robust development pipeline of more than 1,000 projects around the world, including new and emerging markets.

Aimbridge said that Smith is expected to leverage his experience to design and accelerate plans that put the general manager at the center, drive greater value at scale, result in superior property performance, and create an industry-leading culture.

Other additions to the board

The company also announced it was making changes to its board of managers that will provide active support to Smith and additional CEO-level hospitality experience.

Effective immediately, Steve Joyce, who joined the Aimbridge board in November 2023, will step up to assume the role of executive chairman, the company said.

Joyce is a longtime global hospitality leader with more than four decades of multi-brand and franchisee experience, including a successful 10-year run as president and CEO of Choice Hotels International. He is expected to work closely with Smith and the company’s senior management team to advance strategic plans, including finalizing the previously announced streamlined structure in the U.S. and broaden the company’s global footprint.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Aimbridge can—and will be—the best third-party operator in the world, and it starts with embedding a seasoned leader with a deep track record of driving outsized performance across all key metrics—that’s Craig S. Smith,” Joyce said in a statement.

Joyce highlighted Smith’s accomplishments during his 35-year career as a hospitality leader, saying “it’s clear that he knows how to develop winning strategies, set superior operational standards, and most critically, motivate and activate teams to get the best out of his people.”

Joyce succeeds Glenn Murphy who has served as chairman since 2019 and will remain on the board, the company said.

Joining Joyce and Murphy on the board is longtime industry veteran Michael Barnello, managing partner and founder of Badlands Hotel Capital and the former president and CEO of LaSalle Hotel Properties.

Aimbridge said it expects to tap into Barnello’s deep understanding of the hospitality real estate market and leverage his unique, owner-centric point of view as it looks to ignite worldwide growth and build out its newly announced owner relations team, including standing up an Owners Advisory Council.

Aimbridge Hospitality operates more than 80 globally recognized lodging brands and distinctive luxury and lifestyle assets.

Aimbridge said it delivers compelling results for hotel owners by leveraging proprietary data and insights as an authority in key markets and destinations, while creating exceptional guest experiences.

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