With more brands on offer, hotels look to differentiate

Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown South Loop
Hilton Garden Inn has been rolling out a refresh to its hotels for more than two years. Photo credit: Hilton

As hotel companies add multiple brands to different segments, brand leaders are finding new ways to help the hotels flying their flags maintain identities and loyalty from owners and guests alike. 

Wyndham’s Economy Share

Franchisees of Wyndham’s Super 8 brand have invested $100 million into the company’s Innov8te program, and the company recently launched its Room8 shared-room concept. “The idea with Room8 is not to necessarily be in every single room, but to really encourage what Super 8 is all about,” said Lisa Checchio, EVP/chief marketing officer at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, during the company’s 2019 conference in Las Vegas. The rooms appeal to road trippers, she said, with areas for socialization, bunk beds, foosball tables and beanbag chairs—“just as you would if you were back in your own apartment.”

Travelodge, conversely, promotes itself as a hotel for nature lovers rather than road warriors, with 70 percent of the brand’s properties within an hour of a national park. To promote this affiliation, the company tapped Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez as a spokesperson and held a national park cleanup event that attracted local media attention. “We want Travelodge to be that base camp where you come, spend the night and you get out and have an adventure.”  

“There is a brand essence and there is a brand following,” Wyndham President/CEO Geoff Ballotti said. “The Days Inn and Super 8 owners … are fiercely independent.” Ultimately, Checchio said, that is the goal for each brand within the portfolio. “We want our franchisees to feel that they are a part of the brand and that they have a sense of place for their brand. And then, of course, that they're a part of the larger Wyndham family.”

Hilton Garden Inn’s Refresh

Hilton now has 18 flags in its portfolio, most recently launching the upscale lifestyle Tempo brand nearly a year after debuting the upper-upscale Signia brand last February. But the company is still investing in its classic brands and finding new ways to extend each brand’s lifespan in the cycle.

In 2017, the company announced a brand refresh for Hilton Garden Inn, anchored by the global marketing campaign “Simple Things on Another Level.” The brand refresh focuses on food-and-beverage updates, new hotel prototypes for each global region and brand culture enhancements across the portfolio. 

More than two years later, John Greenleaf, the global head of the Hilton Garden Inn brand, said the refresh has been a “constant improvement process” that incorporates feedback from guests, partners, the owner community and the communities where the hotels operate. 

“The end goal was to expand upon a leadership position,” Greenleaf said. “There are myriad examples of brands that had been in a leadership position that either halted the progress or the approach they took to get them there or just thought their lead was one that was going to be maintained because of the position they currently held.” The company saw evidence of expanded market share six months after some of the initiatives were launched, he said—“even in markets where demand has flattened a little bit.” This, he added, is particularly encouraging to the team, especially given the growing supply in an increasing range of markets. 

Marriott’s Extended Stay

At Marriott International, Diane Mayer oversees the Courtyard, Four Points and Protea brands in the company’s Classic Select category as VP and global brand manager for classic select brands, but has worked on all of the company’s 30 brands “at one point in time or another.” 

Among the brands she oversees, extended stay is the easiest to differentiate from the rest, Mayer said, because the physical product is so different. To keep its legacy Residence Inn brand—the third largest brand in Marriott’s North America portfolio and the fifth largest globally—ahead of the competition, Marriott is positioning the brand to target the lucrative millennial traveler group. 

“Millennials are not looking for free food,” she said. “What they're really looking for is socialization.” As such, the extended-stay brands have dialed back on the volume of food available, promoting “finger food” that encourages mingling. “And we've upgraded—significantly—the quality of the beer and wine,” Mayer said. “It's all premium and craft beers, for example—local beers.” The vibe is now more of a happy hour or a cocktail party than a sit-down dinner, and guests are responding. “We've actually seen our guest satisfaction scores with that program go up double digits.” Revenue is up for the brand, as is occupancy, she added, “which is really quite remarkable.”