HB ON THE SCENE: Choice Marks 75th Year with Eye on Future

LAS VEGAS—Amid a plethora of pyrotechnics that helped Choice Hotels International mark its Diamond Jubilee and play off the theme of its 60th annual convention—another milestone—here at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, President/CEO Steve Joyce let a record-breaking crowd of close to 6,000 attendees know the global franchisor is ready to write “the next chapter in the incredible story that is Choice Hotels,” pushing for greater growth, enhanced technology, better brand awareness and the culling of properties that aren’t up to meeting the test of time.

Accompanied by decade-defining music that ran from the Andrews Sisters to Lady Gaga, the conference, themed “Ignite the Future,” kicked off with a multimedia retrospective of world events paralleled against Choice’s growth over 75 years. The company, which traces its roots back to 1939 when seven Southern motel owners created a marketing cooperative known as Quality Courts, is largely in its current form due to the efforts of the late Stuart Bainum Sr., considered the founder of Choice. Bainum, who died in February at 94, parlayed a Quality-branded hotel he bought in 1957 into several, later becoming a primary shareholder in the association as well as a long-time president/CEO, remaining involved throughout the years as the company morphed into Choice Hotels, represented by more than 6,300 properties and 500,000 rooms across 11 brands. In tribute, Joyce called for a moment of silence, telling attendees, “His vision and entrepreneurial spirit made it possible for thousands or families—your families—to fulfill the dream of running a successful hotel business. In many ways his story is your story.”

New chapters for several of the brands are being written, in particular Cambria Suites, which is getting a new brand positioning, and Comfort, which is looking to further bolster its growth via a new-construction development incentive. The global lodging chain last year earmarked $40 million to improve the Comfort brand’s 1,900 domestic properties, specifically those needing PIPs.

The most obvious change for Cambria Suites will be its name. The brand will now be known as Cambria Hotels & Suites to better define its offerings to a target market of medium-frequency business travelers and leisure travelers that hones in on Millennials and drives home its brand message: “Cambria Hotels & Suites: Where Everybody is Somebody” and allows for flexibility and choice.

According to Michael Murphy, SVP/Upscale Brands, this will provide guests the option of selecting a standard hotel room “that feels like an upgrade or an actual suite.”

Accompanying the name change is a new logo done in a contemporary color palette of honey, gray and a spot of red.

The guest experience also is getting a phased refresh slated to include a music program for the lobby, which will feature an enhanced front desk and a focal point “gathering” bar, where Choice Privileges loyalty program members may redeem their newly acquired points for drinks. Also in the mix are technology upgrades in the guestroom, such as an effective solution for wirelessly streaming HD content to televisions, new uniforms—cost neutral to the current program— and enhanced training. 

Choice expects to debut the new Cambria prototype during next month’s NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference in New York.

With 23 hotels under construction within the Comfort brand, Choice’s newly implemented development incentive that reduces fees totaling three years of royalty value on approved new-builds already has garnered two additional franchise agreements for Oklahoma City, OK, and Houston, TX.

Anne Smith, VP/Brand Strategy, noted many of the brand’s franchisees have taken advantage of the company’s $40 million incentive program designed to accelerate renovations and stressed the additional incentive would apply only for a limited time.

She added Comfort Suites, with some 600 properties, and Comfort Inns, with 1,300, also would be marketed from a Comfort-brand standpoint, leveraging the overall distribution strength of 1,900 properties to further attract a target market of midweek business travelers.

“When we show the two Comfort systems together, we can promise three times the locations (as opposed to just 600 Suites products) to business travelers—nearly 1,900 of them—in places they want to go,” said Smith.

She also pledged Choice would continue to remove Comforts that do not meet brand and quality standards. “That’s going to help us go aggressively after the business traveler,” said Smith.

—Stefani C. O’Connor