Brands put the focus on façade facelifts

The Country Inn & Suites by Carlson

The Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, Springfield, Ill., shows the brand’s latest exterior architecture. When the new prototype—which includes updated interiors—rolled out last year, owners of existing properties could choose options for some exterior upgrades as well as interior ones. Pictured: The Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, Springfield, Ill., shows the brand’s latest exterior architecture. When the new prototype—which includes updated interiors—rolled out last year, owners of existing properties could choose options for some exterior upgrades as well as interior ones. 

National Report – Brands with legacy hotels 25 to 30 years old in their system face a quandary: The location could still be good, but the hotels are showing their age. Owners might have kept up with guestroom upgrades over the years and dutifully implemented new service standards, but what about the outside of the box?

Different brands have approached the problem varyingly. Each understands, however, that curb appeal is important to attracting consumers, especially younger travelers, who might be put off by 1980s-era architectural styles and color schemes.

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At Residence Inn by Marriott, VP and global brand manager Diane Mayer said the brand has focused on “upgrading the landscaping and adding a true outdoor living room” to its older properties, which include roughly 90 Gen 1 hotels out of a total distribution of 650. This would include adding outdoor seating and other furniture, a fire pit and improved lighting.

When the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group rolled out the new Gen 4 prototype for Country Inns & Suites by Carlson last year, provisions were made for owners who wanted to make structural adjustments to the exterior of their hotels to make them more consistent with—though not identical to—the new contemporary look.

The Hampton Inn Summersville, W.Va., recently completed exterior upgrades as part of Hampton’s “Forever Young Initiative” designed to update the look of older hotels.Pictured: The Hampton Inn Summersville, W.Va., recently completed exterior upgrades as part of Hampton’s “Forever Young Initiative” designed to update the look of older hotels.

Few brands, however, have gone to the lengths that Hilton Worldwide’s Hampton has gone to address the aging issue. Named the “Forever Young Initiative,” after the Bob Dylan song sung by Rod Stewart, the formal Hampton program requires—rather than recommends—that owners make certain exterior (as well as interior) changes when the hotel is either sold or comes up for relicensing.

“Market research indicated that guests found early-generation Hamptons’ metal mansard roof to be dated, so we removed it, creating a more streamlined profile,” said Kurt Smith, VP of product quality and innovation for Hilton’s focused-service brands.

Construction considerations

Given that guest expectations are on the rise and the select-service/focused-service tier remains highly competitive with new brands regularly being introduced (each with its own prototype), the fate of Gen 1 and Gen 2 properties will continue to be an issue, explained Bruce Ford, SVP and director of business development for Lodging Econometrics.

“The brand’s decision whether or not to relicense a Gen 1 hotel depends on a number of factors, location being high on the list. If the location is strong, the brand will certainly encourage the owner to update the property, so it can remain in the system and be an even better performer,” Ford said.

Brands like Country Inns & Suites and Hampton provide project drawings and overall plans for the work. Some recommend general contractors. In addition to picking up the tab, the owner is responsible for hiring the contractor and bringing in engineering support, if necessary.

For their part, construction companies that specialize in hospitality work increasingly find themselves called in on these projects. Frequently, the scope of the work at hand can change in unexpected ways.

“Considering many are 30-year-old buildings, once work begins, we’ll uncover problems—things like deterioration, water damage or mold—that need to be addressed and add to cost,” said Bill Wilhelm, president of R.D. Olson Construction.

While some projects entail extensive structural work, others are more cosmetic (and less costly). Sam Cicero Jr., president of Cicero’s Development Corp., has handled jobs where the exterior work is confined to painting. “The owner is trying to create a more contemporary look by painting different parts of the façade different, though complementary colors,” he said.

When structural work is involved, it frequently entails opening up the hotel’s front entrance and the porte cochere to allow more natural light to enter the lobby. “What starts out as being about the exterior ends up being about the interior as well,” Wilhelm said. “By installing large glass windows, you’re allowing the outside in.”

Increasingly, local municipalities are getting involved, setting design guidelines for both new construction and renovations in their communities, according to Cicero. “It can complicate matters for us when the owner and the brand each have their own preferences and the town or city has its own requirements,” he said.

Working through change

Not surprisingly, hotels opt to remain open while the work is being done, owners not wanting to lose revenue. Nor do they want their repeat guests having to find alternate accommodations and possibly taking a shine to the new hotel. “Remaining open can mean creating a temporary front desk, depending on how you rework the entry,” Wilhelm said.

➔ $25,000 per key

Hampton predicts the average cost for interior and exterior upgrades to its older hotels should cost around $25,000 per key.

Source: Kurt Smith, VP of product quality and innovation for Hilton’s focused-service brands

He and Cicero each stressed the importance of ensuring that noise and construction debris don’t compromise the guest experience while work is underway. The project can take anywhere from three to six months, depending on the complexity, weather conditions, size of the property and so on, according to Wilhelm.

Whatever improvements owners make to the exterior of their aging properties, both the owners and the brand stand to benefit. “The owner gets to maintain a valuable asset and we get the benefit of a strong performer for the long-term,” Smith said. 

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