New GRS, new brand, all systems go for Choice Hotels

The new Cambria hotel is part of the Chandler Viridian, a 25-acre mixed-use development project including office space, apartments, retail and the nearby Chandler Fashion Center.
The Cambria hotel & suites Phoenix Chandler – Fashion Center. Photo credit: Choice Hotels International

Consider this: Until last month, Choice Hotels International was running a global reservations system as old as the World Wide Web—literally. Choice's new cloud-based global reservations system, choiceEDGE, replaces a platform that debuted the same year that "www" entered the collective parlance.

The distribution platform supports more than 6,500 Choice Hotels properties globally and is fully integrated with choiceADVANTAGE, Choice Hotels' property management system. 

The switch, many years in the making, had Pat Pacious, CEO of Choice Hotels International, beaming when I spoke to him at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles. There is a symmetry to Choice's new, shiny system: it arrives just around the same time Pacious does; the CEO having only held the top spot since fall.  

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In that way, Pacious has a new toy to take out for a spin. 

"The old system," he said, "was built on old architecture. It couldn't handle the volume and variety of transactions and the velocity to move data around."

Adapting or updating the old platform proved too difficult a task. The entire process took about two-and-a-half years, and was led by Brian Kirkland, VP of engineering at Choice Hotels.

The new GRS, Pacious said, is much more robust and even has bells and whistles such as voice-based search, artificial intelligence and, "eventually will look at blockchain," he said, which could help drive more direct bookings, thereby bypassing online travel intermediaries. 

Other features of the new platform include, cloud-based scalability and stability; connectivity with online travel agents, global distribution systems and property management systems; and the capability to add selling disparate inventory types, including hotel rooms, meeting rooms, vacation rentals and package offerings.

"Technology allows us to connect between Choice, the hotels and consumers," Pacious said.

He also touted a recent partnership with Delivery.com, which is a win for Choice Privileges members. Through the new program, hotel guests get the convenience of delivery services from local restaurants directly to where they are staying, while also earning Choice Privileges loyalty points. On-demand delivery from liquor stores, grocery stores and laundry and dry cleaning is also promised coming soon.

Brand Boost

Implementing a new global reservations system is not the only exclamation point for Choice Hotels. After relative quiet in the M&A world, Choice dove in with its further bet on the extended-stay market via its acquisition of WoodSpring Hotels. Through the economy extended-stay brand, Choice will gain nearly 240 additional hotels in 35 states. Now, Choice's extended-stay portfolio is more than 350 properties strong inclusive of its other extended-stay brands, Suburban Extended Stay and Mainstay Suites.

Pacious points to the high RevPAR growth of extended stay as a reason the company made the deal. "It fits our portfolio," he said, complimenting the brand's all-new-construction ethos.

Of the Choice and WoodSpring hookup, Pacious said the scale of Choice will allow WoodSpring to thrive and flourish. "We bought a brand for tomorrow," he said.

On the upscale front, Pacious, from his perch on a top floor at the JW Marriott LA Live, pointed across the street where a new Cambria is in the works, currently in the midst of seeking entitlements to build. 

The brand is picking up momentum, Pacious said, with interest from institutional investors. There are currently 37 Cambria-branded hotels open, seven of which, Pacious pointed to, our located in top 10 markets. The pipeline stands at 70, with Cambria at LAX expected to open in May. The Cambria Hotel Nashville opened last month. "We have a clear path to over 100 hotels," Pacious said.

The midscale segment, where Choice has a large presence with its legacy Comfort, Quality and Sleep brands, is becoming ever more crowded as new brands target the space.

"We are fortifying our presence in midscale with repositioning Comfort," Pacious said, noting the brand's pipeline of 300 hotels. Choice opened 150 Quality Inns last year, with 1,500 opened today. Sleep Inn has 400 hotel open worldwide and Pacious said the company has seen success with its Mainstay and Sleep dual-brand. Ten are currently open with a pipeline around 120. 

In Europe, Pacious said the business is different than the U.S. Hotels there, he said, are built as a domestic product. "European business is not international inbound," he said. "Germans stay in Germany hotels."