White Lodging bets big on Mile High brand mix

The dual-branded AC Hotel and Le Méridien in Denver is slated to open in 2017.
The dual-branded AC Hotel and Le Méridien in Denver is slated to open in 2017. It will be White Lodging’s 10th dual-branded development.

The dual-branded AC Hotel and Le Méridien in Denver is slated to open in 2017. It will be White Lodging’s 10th dual-branded development.

National Report – If history has taught us anything, it’s that great duos often come from dissimilar pieces: peanut butter and jelly, Oscar and Felix, milk and cookies, yin and yang.

And if there is one hotel developer out there that enjoys tinkering and concocting the perfect mix, it is Merrillville, Ind.-based White Lodging. In February, the company announced it would build a dual-branded hotel development in downtown Denver, featuring an AC Hotels by Marriott hotel and a Starwood-branded Le Méridien. Construction of the 18-story development will begin this spring, with an opening scheduled for early 2017.

The two properties will have a combined 491 rooms and will be the 17th and 18th White Lodging-managed hotels in Colorado.

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While dual-brand properties have become more widespread in recent times, with lenders warming up to the concept and owners savoring the shared efficiencies, traditionally a project of this sort would contain two brands of the same family—think a Crowne Plaza paired with a Staybridge Suites (IHG) or a Homewood Suites and a Hampton Inn (Hilton Worldwide).

This isn’t White Lodging’s first foray into the dual-brand space—even three-brand space, for that matter. In 2013, White Lodging opened the triplex Aloft Chicago City Center, Fairfield Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown/River North and Hyatt Place Chicago/River North. In total, the Denver project will be White Lodging’s 10th dual-branded development.

While having more than one brand from different brand families under one roof is a difficult proposition—there are questions of competition and confusion of identities—Deno Yiankes, president & CEO, investment and developments for White Lodging, thinks otherwise.

“Twenty years ago, the design of these hotels would have dictated that we operate as independents; that’s how far brands have come in terms of embracing what today/tomorrow’s travelers are seeking,” Yiankes told Hotel Management. “Our market research convinced us we had a very unique opportunity to bring something new and different to downtown Denver. Marriott’s AC and Starwood’s Le Méridien brands are anything but ‘me too’ hotels. The strong brand and loyalty programs provide ownership a safety net, yet the fresh and unique urban design of each hotel will allow us to provide our guests with a truly distinct experience versus just an overnight stay.”

According to Yiankes, lenders, generally, are embracing the concept. “They view, as we do, having two strong reservation/room night channels as a distinct competitive advantage and understand the cost and operational efficiencies that this model affords,” he said. (White Lodging is the developer, operator and 50-percent owner of the project; Etkin Johnson Group, REI Real Estate and Poe Companies are also investors.)

BRAND PLAY

White Lodging's triplex property in Chicago involves an Aloft, a Fairfield Inn & Suites and a Hyatt Place.

White Lodging's triplex property in Chicago involves an Aloft, a Fairfield Inn & Suites and a Hyatt Place.

Surely the brands agree, or they wouldn’t be part of a development such as this one. Both AC Hotels and Le Méridien play in the same upscale to upper-upscale lifestyle air, undoubtedly competing for similarly minded customers. Anthony Ingham, VP North American brand management for luxury and design brands for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, is unfazed by the dual notion—or is it duel? “In a dual-branded complex such as this, each featured hotel will retain its own specific brand DNA,” he said.

For instance, Le Méridien will have its own entryway and lobby, in addition to bar, food and beverage offerings and meeting space. It will also have the main brand drivers Le Méridien is known for, such as large-scale artwork and the signature Le Méridien Hub.

Added Yiankes, “Given our prime location in the heart of downtown, we felt there was an opportunity to create two lifestyle-oriented hotels while tapping into two of our industry’s strongest brand and distribution channels in Starwood and Marriott.”

Meanwhile, AC Hotels is new to the U.S., a European export that originated in 2011 as a joint venture between Spanish hotelier Antonio Catalan and Marriott.

Still, there is the competitive side to best rivals, particularly when they share the same footprint. “Le Méridien has a proven track record in differentiating the brand amongst competitors and driving a RevPAR index above industry average,” Ingham said.

Both Yiankes and Ingham are bullish on Denver. “From a destination standpoint, Denver is a sophisticated city that attracts curious travelers from around the world to its year-round natural wonders. That made Denver a perfect fit for Le Méridien,” Ingham said.

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