Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group: Revving up the franchise strategy

It’s been a busy 2014 for Minneapolis-based Carlson. Over the past few years the company has relaunched its classic Radisson brand into two tiers (Radisson and Radisson Blu), deepened its relationship with Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel Group and developed a new look for its Country Inns & Suites brand. Just this year, Carlson added two new brands—Quorvus Collection and Radisson Red—made significant moves with Country Inns & Suites and shifted the company’s focus firmly on its hotel and travel brands. We talked with Phil Silberstein, EVP of development for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group in the Americas, to get the scoop on what to expect from Carlson here on the homefront.

1 Hotel development at Carlson includes franchising, owning and managing hotels. From a franchising standpoint, what are your priorities right now in the Americas?

PS: We think there’s tremendous opportunity in franchising for Country Inn & Suites and our new Radisson Red brand moving forward. Our whole family of brands covers almost every segment of the lodging industry and we’re well-positioned for significant and accelerated growth for all our brands … but we’re really focusing on growing these two brands as franchise brands here in the Americas.

2 Remind us what the Radisson Red concept is all about?

PS: This is our new lifestyle select-service brand that we launched earlier this year. We’ll provide corporate support for the first several hotels, either developing them with our own resources or as joint ventures with partners, and we’re targeting new-build opportunities in urban gateways like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Denver and Minneapolis. Then down the road we’ll move to other markets with a franchise program. Our goal is to have 60 Radisson Reds in the Americas by 2020.

3 Carlson has been differentiating its Radisson brand for a few years now. How does Radisson Red fit into that family?

PS: Our Radisson brands share a nice halo effect, starting with our upper upscale Radisson Blu brand, which started internationally and which has had great traction here in the Americas in Minneapolis, Chicago and Philadelphia. These have all outperformed our expectations in their markets. And our core upscale Radisson brand has been enhanced over the last few years to the point where more than 90 percent have been completely renovated or will be by the end of this year—just last year J.D. Power and Associates ranked Radisson as the most improved upscale brand. So Radisson Red will benefit from this halo effect. It’ll be a design-forward, tech-forward offering, targeting millennials in age, yes, but also consumers of all ages who have that millennial mindset.

4 Speaking of design-forward looks, Country Inns & Suites is looking a little different these days.

PS: Seeing the first new-build Generation 4 Country Inns & Suites open in Springfield, Ill., was really exciting. It was the result of a lot of hard work and partnerships with our franchisees. This brand is still about warmth and caring, but it’s been completely revitalized and is much more sleek and sophisticated. Now we have nine of the Generation 4 designs open, we have product-improvement plans for 150 and we have more than 40 in the pipeline.

5 Give us a quick roundup of what’s going on with Carlson’s other hotel brands?

PS: Quorvus, our affiliation brand, also launched earlier this year and that’s meant to target luxury opportunities primarily in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Europe. We’d like to entertain doing these in the Americas, but initially our focus here is international. Our midmarket full-service brand, Park Inn by Radisson, has had steady growth outside the United States, and here in the Americas it’s really seeing momentum in Latin America—we recently opened one in Colombia and signed one in Brazil. We have three Park Inns open in Latin America now and five under development there. We’re also thinking about franchising Radisson Blu. We’re not doing it now, but we do have a lot of interest there and it’s an initiative we’re considering.