LAS VEGAS — Choice Hotels is giving its most recognizable brand a refit. A new logo for its Comfort brand, decidedly more sleek and contemporary than its predecessor, was unveiled on the second day of the hotel company's conference here at Mandalay Bay Resort.
Landor, a New York City-based brand consulting and design agency, created the logo, a large C in orange and yellow hues, and a dark blue color for the Comfort name. The new logo will bring the Comfort Inn, Comfort Inn & Suites and Comfort Suites brands together under one umbrella, Megan Brumagim, head of Comfort brands, said, and would help attract not only new guests, but bring back former ones who had stayed away in recent years.
The updated logo is the cherry on the top for a brand that has been in constant remix. Comfort’s redevelopment began five years ago, said John Bonds, Choice’s SVP of enterprise operations and technology. “That’s when we realized that this flagship brand of ours needed to be reinvented, revitalized and renewed. Our guests were clear: update your hotels or lose our business,” he said.
Choice has parted ways with more 600 properties from the brand over the last several years. “Even though they were making money, they were dragging the Comfort brand down by not meeting our standards. We had to improve the product so we could change the impression of Comfort with guests and developers,” Bonds said.
The brand then introduced Move to Modern, an initiative focused on property upgrades. Hotels that complete the Move to Modern renovations first will get discounts and rebates on the updated signage, and hotels that do not complete the initiative cannot upgrade to the new logo. All Comfort properties across the U.S. are slated to complete their renovations and update their signage by the end of 2020.
Anne Smith, VP of brand management and design, estimated that by the end of 2019, Choice and its owners will have invested $2.5 billion in the Comfort brand.
Comfort now has 1,800 properties open across North America, along with one of the largest pipelines in its history at nearly 300 properties. A full 80 percent of these projects are new-construction.
Cambria's Growth Plan
In the upscale space, Choice's Cambria brand is in expansion mode, focusing on urban markets with high barriers to entry. Consider Choice's convention last year; then, Cambria properties were in 34 of the top 50 markets, noted Mark Shalala, VP of Cambria development. Today, Choice has Cambria hotels open or in the works in 42 of those markets, including an adaptive reuse of a historic office building in Dallas and the brand’s second Chicago property.
“We continue to distribute the brand in high-profile, high-RevPAR markets,” Shalala said, adding that the company is going after “key urban high-barrier-to-entry markets” in order to build brand awareness. “We have 37 hotels open, and we’re on track to open another 12 hotels this year, with 13 projects currently under construction. We anticipate breaking ground on an additional 15 projects in 2018. With another 70-plus projects in the development pipeline, we have a clear path to reach 100 hotels by 2020.”
Shalala sees three main reasons behind Cambria’s growth surge. The first, he said, was Choice’s financial commitment to the brand, in the form of $500 million in key money to support development partners, as well as investment in new technology, delivery systems and initiatives.
The second is Cambria’s unique position as an upscale brand in a company that focuses on the midscale and economy sectors. As other companies simultaneously consolidate and launch new brands, Shalala said, they ultimately further segment their brand offering and dilute the market share. “With Cambria’s upscale brand positioning within the Choice family, you will never compete against another Choice brand,” he pledged to the gathered owners, managers and investors. “We still have a lot of great markets available, and developers love the fact that they can grow with us.”
The third is the brand’s appeal for investors. “Cambria is attracting more and more top sponsors, institutional investors, private-equity groups, and we’re rapidly gaining acceptance in the lending community,” Shalala said. “This is making raising equity and securing debt for new construction easier for our owners, as well as to refinance for current owners.”
Looking ahead, Shalala sees strong demand from developers who want to build multiple Cambrias and are looking for capital support. This, he said, would be the company’s focus for future development. “We’ll still invest in individual projects, but we’re going to take a more programmatic investment approach with multi-unit developers,” he said. “This should help increase brand equity for all owners and, more importantly, it helps improve the overall guest experience from market to market. For our developers, this approach establishes a consistent investment platform and improves their ROI."