|Michael Murphy, SVP of Cambria Suites, said Cambria is targeting the “unloved, unattached and up-for-grabs” travelers who travel moderately for business and fall into the millennial age range.|
Los Angeles—Choice Hotels International is injecting $40 million of corporate money into Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites to accelerate the refresh it officially launched for its flagship brands in early 2012.
“Comfort properties will be eligible for a share of that [$40-million] incentive, designed to assist you with the purchase cost of items in the [product-improvement plan],” Choice president and CEO Steve Joyce told attendees at the company’s annual conference here. “We want to move it along further and faster. Improving the quality of the Comfort brands will help all our brands by making the entire Choice Hotels system stronger.”
The Comfort Re-Imagined strategy establishes new product and service standards for the nearly 2,000 Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites properties in the United States. So far, the refresh included an upgrade to the brands’ free hot breakfast, new design concepts and color schemes, flat-planel TVs and updated bedding packages. The updated bedding package must be in place by December 31.
|Alexandra Jaritz, SVP for brand strategy and marketing for Choice, said the key word behind Choice’s $40-million corporate incentive toward improving the Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites brands is “acceleration.”|
Most of the benefits available through this incentive will go toward guest-facing capital investments like carpet, furniture, mattresses and building exterior. Under the incentive program, Choice could reimburse up to 50 percent of costs for these items. Franchisees that may have already completed qualifying elements of their PIP may apply for incentive money retroactively.
Why inject corporate money? Mike Varner, head of domestic brand management for the Comfort brands, Sleep Inn and Extended Stay for Choice, said the Comfort brands’ “biggest performance gap is in product quality.”
“Right now our guests are staying with Holiday Inn Express, Hampton and La Quinta too often,” he said. “Real change and improvement is the goal for this strategy. Gains in rate and occupancy are good news but we need better results and we need them faster.”
Alexandra Jaritz, SVP for brand strategy and marketing for Choice, said the key word behind this capital incentive is “acceleration.”
“We really wanted to accelerate the improvement of the brand,” she said. “Also, we have a great balance sheet so we wanted to help our franchisees invest in their assets.”
The program will “enable owners who are ready to step up,” Jaritz explained. “We want to make sure the money goes to owners who have a project but who also intend to stay with Choice,” she said.
|Comfort Inn counts more than 1,887 open franchises worldwide.|
Qualifying properties can apply for funds, which will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis through a forgivable promissory note. Under that structure, after a fixed time, hotels receiving incentive funds will not owe money to Choice as long as they don’t default on their franchise agreement. All eligible work must be completed before September 30, 2014, and Choice will pay out incentive funds after PIPs have been verified.
The program is optional and hotels with PIPs in hand must complete them regardless of whether they apply for incentive funds or not. Those hotels may apply for money online, choose options that fit their PIP and agree to complete them on time. Properties without a current PIP may request one based on current needs. The reimbursement will range from $70,000 to $150,000 per property, Varner said.
Cambria suites update
Choice also is on a mission to evolve the brand positioning of its new-build, all-suite Cambria Suites brand. With 19 hotels open and 26 under development, Cambria looks to 2020 as the year it hits its critical mass of open properties.
Michael Murphy, SVP of Cambria Suites and Choice’s Ascend Collection, said the company is taking advantage of being small. He said the “upscale lifestyle” characterization of the brand, relevant when launched, is no longer a unique description.
Cambria is targeting medium-frequency business travelers in the short term and the millennial travelers in the long term. Murphy said the brand will go after the “unloved, unattached and up-for-grabs” travelers.
“That’s the business traveler who does about 5 to 19 nights per year,” Murphy said. “They don’t travel as much and they’re not committed to one brand or one loyalty program. We have an opportunity to go after this market and create and experience that makes them want to stay with us.”
He elaborated that today’s medium-frequency business traveler will evolve into a powerful millennial traveler by 2020.
Murphy said the remainder of 2013 will be spent on research and 2014 will be about rolling out new customer experiences to capture this audience.
Joyce said the company as a whole is committed to excellence across all its brands. “For a long time Choice was a stop along the way for our travelers and some of our franchisees,” he said. “We’re no longer a stop along the way; we’re becoming a destination.”