Choice Hotels International

Choice talks brand positioning, relaunch of Sleep Inn

6 May, 2010 By: Jason Q. Freed Hotel and Motel Management

A few final touches on a two-year brand positioning effort were unveiled during Choice Hotels’ annual convention on Wednesday.

The company continues to strive for market clarity on each of its 10 brands, and CEO Steve Joyce reaffirmed efforts to move the Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites brands together into a higher midscale segment. This will leave plenty of room for growth in the lower midscale segment, Joyce said, also announcing a relaunch of the 32-year-old Sleep Inn brand.

“We believe strongly that Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites needs to move up,” he said. “We have been a little slow to push that, but we are now in full mode to move them up in parallel to be more competitive with what they should be in line with.

“That leaves lots of room for Sleep,” Joyce continued. “The brand is all new-build, it was all done remarkably consistently. It has a great following today, but it should be a much bigger brand.”

Online distribution dominates Day 1 of Choice Hotel show

With a Sleep Inn redesign, Choice aims to provide a “simply stylish” stay based on value for the developer and for the guest. There are nearly 400 Sleep Inn properties today, almost all in the U.S., and franchisees were expressing interest in a more contemporary design, said brand director Mike Varner.

Three Sleep Inn properties already are open featuring the new design standards; 15 are under construction, and 10 of those 15 are expected to open this year.

Some highlights from the brand’s redesign: new lobby designs with warm, natural finishes and graphic accent walls; guestrooms with matching accent walls, media boards with flat-screen TVs and new bedding; redesigned bathrooms featuring freestanding vanities and frameless glass showers; and a redesigned exterior with natural stone finishes and feature lighting.

Varner said the new prototype will be available for all new-construction properties moving forward and that cost per key to renovate a current Sleep Inn averages around $5,500 per key, but varies dramatically in each market.

In three years, 80 percent of the brand will be renovated, Varner said.

“The next step will be letting the guests know,” he said.

Joyce said the Sleep Inn redesign is an example of Choice aiming to cement brand positioning in the market and giving franchisees the tools to accomplish that goal. He pointed to Choice’s Web-based property-management system as an exclusive tool in today’s brand market that gives operators flexibility and saves developers up to $300,000 when building a Choice property.

“If you have access to the Internet, you have access to our system,” he said. “That’s going to make a big difference in our ability to grow internationally.”

Choice is primarily focused on growth via conversions, especially in the U.S. and U.K., but has big new development plans in India. Choice currently has 28 properties open in India, more than most other domestic franchisors, said David Pepper, SVP of global development, who has been to India twice already in 2010.

“Clearly you see the highways and the infrastructure that’s being built there, and you see the new traveler starting to actually travel around the country,” Pepper said. “So there’s a huge opportunity for development.”

Choice executives continued to make no secret about their zest to introduce a new upscale brand to the market, whether that be through in-house development or acquisition.

“Where we really play right now in the moderate-tier segment is half the business, and we’d like to play in the other half,” Joyce said. “We believe that a full-service brand in the four-star category that we could position as value-oriented would be a very interesting addition to our portfolio and would help add to our strong leisure orientation by bringing in a lot more business customers.”

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