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WHG Extends its Midscale Growth

About two years ago, I was invited to Wyndham’s headquarters in Parsipanny, NJ, and Hotel Business Publisher Allen Rolleri and I took a short road trip to meet with CEO Geoff Ballotti and then VP, Brand Marketing and Insights Lisa Checchio (now SVP, global brands). The executives were excited to unveil to us the hotel company’s new individual brand promises, which gave identities to each of WHG’s 16, at the time, brands. Of course, Hotel Business jumped on the exclusive opportunity to meet with the enthusiastic pair, find out more about the key definitions and report them to you.

So, when I was invited once again to get in the car and head to our neighboring state to meet with another of Wyndham Hotel Group’s dynamic duos—Ballotti and EVP/Chief Development Officer Chip Ohlsson—we did just that. So, maybe it was Valentine’s Day. We donned our red and made our way to WHG’s HQ and sat down with the team to interview them, exclusively, about the near past, present initiatives and what’s on the horizon, over lunch and, yes, a heart-shaped cake.

I asked the executives for a progress report, so to speak, about the brand stories, which rely heavily on nostalgia to capture guests. And make no mistake about it, there are Wyndham-specific guests. By matching each brand to a travel personality—for example, an adventurer who plans to explore the country’s national parks would pair nicely with Travelodge, which has the tagline “Basecamp for Adventure”— there has been a significant uptick in business. And that’s from the campaign alone, according to Ohlsson.

“AAA will tell you road trips are up more than ever before, so roadside stays go along with it,” Ohlsson said. “It’s the democratization of travel—people want to see America. They want to pack up the family and stay at Howard Johnson, for example, like I did as a kid. They can stay at our properties all across the U.S. and build that nostalgia and build those memories. We couldn’t be more excited. This branding gives guests a connection and if they all can make a connection, we’ve done our job.”

“They’re all perfect; there’s no more work to be done,” Ballotti added with a chuckle.

It’s a test and pilot approach where WHG is working with its owners to make sure what it’s asking its system to do is executable. So basically, Wyndham introduces the pilots and then determines how to roll.

“The proof is out with our franchisees in terms of their desire to adopt the pilots. We’ve had some incredibly successful pilots—the most successful, perhaps, being on the Super 8 side, where we took this incredibly great design and really elevated the economy experience in what is now 90% adopted,” Ballotti said. “We’ve got about 10% of the system left. The hotels that are adopting the new guestroom design are seeing lifts in their market share and RevPAR index.”

The message for this particular meeting, however, was less about each of the now 21 brands, and more about corporate growth. Ballotti confidently told us he wants not only to be big, but bigger. And that scale matters. But not just any growth: midscale growth—a hot segment to be in. Just turn the pages of this issue alone, and you can see that all the major hotel brand companies want to lay claim to that space. This is one of the main reasons WHG is aggressively acquiring: First AmericInn, next La Quinta. In fact, the CEO, during our meeting, seemed to be hinting there just might be more to come. You see, it’s not only about elevating WHG’s profile as a midscale hotel company, or elevating the numbers of midscale hotels it calls its own, it’s also about elevating market share, RevPAR index for the owners and elevating the experience for the guests.

“It’s a space we love,” Ballotti told me. “From a demographic standpoint to the metrics from the research rms, it is the space you want to be in long term. It beautifully aligns with how people are traveling.”

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