HM on location: Howard Johnson reveals sweet new look

NEW YORK— After more than a quarter-century, the Howard Johnson by Wyndham brand is rolling out a refreshed design for its guestrooms and public spaces, following a $40 million initiative to combine classic and contemporary elements.

To celebrate, the company hosted a two-day pop-up space in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, covering a model room in candy to evoke the brand’s history of family-friendly restaurants and their origin as an ice-cream shop. The model used 450 pounds of 10 types of candy, covering more than a dozen flavors. The furniture was covered in approximately 80,000 M&M's and 4,125 feet of sour tape, while a model swimming pool was filled with more than 30,000 marshmallows.

A New Look for a Classic Brand

“This is the biggest thing we've done in 25 years of Howard Johnson,” Clem Bence, the brand’s leader and VP of operations, told Hotel Management at the event. The brand, he noted, comes with a good amount of nostalgia, with the first Howard Johnson restaurant opening in 1925 and the first hotel opening in 1954. That nostalgia, he said, had to be “incorporated” into the design. “We have a marshmallow mirror that is inspired [by] the 1950 Nielsen couch,” he said. Wall art is inspired by the brand’s iconic roof line, and the bright color schemes celebrate the 1960s. 

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At the same time, he acknowledged that family travel needs have changed significantly over the last 25 years, so the redesign incorporates some 21st-century elements like flat-screen televisions and bedside lamps with USB ports and power outlets. 

The redesign, Bence said, are “great and important” for franchise owners. “The return they're getting as they're [updating the hotels is that] customer satisfaction scores are going up; they're seeing serious increases in [revenue per available room] ... overall satisfaction scores climbed and many of our owners are seeing double-digit increases.” 

New brand standards can be a significant expense for owners, and the HoJo leadership team wanted to be “smart” about how any renovations roll out. “We understand that hotels are on different renovation cycles,” Bence said. As such, they’re focusing first on the “key elements” that will brighten up rooms, and are allowing owners to fit the upgrades into their property-improvement-plan cycle to maximize the return on investment. “It was really key to us to work with the owners and make sure that they had that ability,” he said. 

The cost to upgrade, Bence said, starts at about $2,500 per room, inclusive of shipping, but depending on how much needs to be updated (and how much existing material can be recycled), that number can go up or down. 

More than 70 percent of Howard Johnson hotels across the United States and Canada have started or completed renovations in line with the new design package, and most of the hotels are slated to complete the refresh by the summer of 2020. Once they do, the brand estimates Howard Johnson hotel owners will have invested a total of more than $40 million into the project at more than 200 Howard Johnson hotels across the U.S. and Canada.

Photo credit: Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Hotel Management/Jena Tesse Fox

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