Vimana Franchise Systems, franchisor of the Centerstone and Key West brands, is getting a jump start on the new year in a big way. The company has been working over the past several months on an overhaul of its infrastructure support systems, all in a bid to up the attractiveness of what Steve Belmonte, president & CEO of Vimana, calls “hospitality’s friendliest franchise company.”
Belmonte isn’t wearing that moniker lightly. Vimana's franchise fees total 4 percent while the industry averages 9.5 percent to 10 percent, and the company refrains from imposing large mandates on properties it works with. Now included in Vimana’s 4-percent franchising fee is a host of new offerings, such as a new central-reservation system, global loyalty club program, revenue-management program, free cloud-based property-management system and a number of other benefits.
All told, Vimana spent roughly half a million dollars in the infrastructure overhaul, but one of the biggest new additions to the company is the launch of the Independent Collection by Vimana. Hotels that join the new Collection will be allowed to keep their own name (changing only signage) and will be able to take advantage of the new infrastructure awarded to Centerstone and Key West properties.
“We created a third offer because we recognized there are a lot of owners who have property names that are sacred,” Belmonte said. “They’ve either been around forever or have historic connections, and we are creating an agreement that allows them to retain their name and individuality while integrating into all of our services and sites.”
A Better Way to Franchise
New additions to Vimana’s infrastructure include a new purchasing network powered by Source1 Purchasing, a dedicated account manager, free access to Vimana University Online Training powered by HMBookstore and access to technology consultants. To that end, Tim Pigsley, former VP of marketing at Ramada, signed on to serve as Vimana’s technology advisor. Vimana also partnered with the InnDependent Boutique Collection to provide partner hotels with direct access to channel management and booking technology via the IBC Marketplace, and Vimana’s new Constellation CRS and Grand Loyalty Club program are both powered by IBC.
When speaking with HOTEL MANAGEMENT, Belmonte said Vimana chose to back away from other reservation systems because they were expensive and created difficulties for franchisees, and for Belmonte the satisfaction of his franchisees is of the utmost importance.
“I believe there is a better way to franchise hotels than what is currently going on,” Belmonte said. He served as president and CEO of Ramada Hotels for over a decade, a position he entered with a franchise owner mindset that he claims never left him, culminating with the creation of Vimana.
To Belmonte, “franchise friendly” is a concept associated with contract terms, fee structure, low initial fees and renegotiations every three years. “I’m very sensitive to the environment the hotel owner struggles with every day,” Belmonte said. “So the first qualifier for a program with us is, ‘Will the franchisee like it? Will it help them?’”
According to Amanda Belmonte, VP of franchise services at Vimana, the company’s new CRS connects to roughly 250 online travel agencies and half a million travel agencies, and is included entirely within the company’s franchising fee structure. Also included is a new loyalty program, which is free to guests and connects to over 20,000 independent boutique hotels worldwide. Aspects of the loyalty program include unlimited guest night redemptions, with properties automatically reimbursed.
“There are other benefits as well, but not paying for [the program] is almost unheard of,” she said. “Those costs continue to climb, most brands charge 2-4 percent for loyalty programs. Yes, we are eating some of the cost, but we want it to be part of an all-inclusive model.”
Keeping Your Identity
In addition, Vimana is partnering with Infomedia to provide franchised hotels with their own custom-built vanity websites, which will be listed alongside the property’s primary website on OTAs. The goal is to increase the likelihood a property showing up in metasearch results for guests while allowing a boutique hotel to retain its identity apart from a branded site.
“Big brands don’t want their hotels to have their own website, they want to funnel visitors through their own website,” Amanda Belmonte said. “This way properties are more likely to come up in bookings searches, and it helps fight OTAs and their commissions."
Vimana’s new revenue-management system, also available to franchisees for free, is powered by Room Results. Steve Belmonte admitted that by not charging for the service he is shouldering much of the cost, but recognized that revenue-management strategies are essential for the modern hotelier’s success.
“If we put an emphasis on rate strategy, we know [hotels] will increase revenue and we will benefit from their growth,” he said. “It’s just smart business.”
For the year to come, Steve Belmonte suggests as many as 30-40 hotels may be in line to join the Vimana’s Independent Collection, and the company is also reaching out to regional brands for conversion opportunities. Most of all, he professed his excitement to reach out to these smaller brands and make some deals happen.
“By the end of 2017, Vimana will be a very different company than it is today,” he said.