The four-story, 104-room Hotel Indigo Anaheim is located near what was once a well-traveled wagon trail that connected several thriving ranches responsible for producing nearly half of the nation’s walnuts in the early 1900s. This history is reflected in the hotel’s design, from the mosaic murals of blooming walnut trees to a restaurant that pays homage to the hard-working family farmers of days gone by. After converting from a Holiday Inn Express in October, the new retro-style hotel had a unique neighborhood story to share with guests.
Owner and operator New Century Enterprises LLC invested approximately $5 million to upgrade the property from the upper midscale brand to the upscale boutique brand, both of which are part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) family. Since the conversion, the hotel has been able to increase its average daily rate by $27. Occupancy has risen just over 16 percent in the past year.
“When we convert to a Hotel Indigo…it’s like a new build,” says Mary Winslow, director of Americas brand management for Hotel Indigo at IHG. “The hotel is located in the same physical space, but that’s about all you would recognize.”
Yet the less visible aspects of the project—the accommodation of guests, the widespread communication efforts, and the change in hotel culture—were just as important to the conversion’s success, Winslow says. “A lot of the work thus far has been informing our clients. Truly it was an opportunity to reposition the hotel in the marketplace.”
We spoke with several industry experts who have navigated—or are continuing to work through—recent hotel conversions. While each project faces its own unique opportunities and challenges, they shared a mix of general tips and specific anecdotes to help pave the way for other successful conversions.
1. Start with a plan
Maybe you’re converting to fill a niche in the marketplace. Maybe the conversion is meant to reposition your brand. Whatever the goal, have a plan in place before you begin the conversion process, says Ralph Grippo, president of Irvine Company Resort Properties, based in Newport Beach, Calif. “Don’t underestimate the magnitude,” he says. “It’s a significant, serious undertaking. It’s not as simple as taking down a sign and putting up a new sign.”
The best way to develop a conversion plan is to focus on your customers’ needs, Grippo says. Though the Irvine Company has owned the property now known as the Hotel Irvine Jamboree Center for 25 years, Hyatt managed it up until last year. The company saw a valuable opportunity to rebrand because the Southern California city of Irvine is home to a number of lifestyle companies but had no independent lifestyle hotel, he says. With a new marketing campaign and a targeted reinvestment program, Hotel Irvine’s new lifestyle experience came alive. The Irvine Company redesigned the hotel’s 536 guestrooms and refreshed all banquet and meeting spaces, as well as the lobby, lounge, café, restaurant, and outdoor social areas. “There are people who aren’t looking for cookie-cutter branded things,” Grippo says. “We had a plan on what the brand would be.”
Make sure your plan accounts for even the smallest details. Don’t underestimate the significance of, for instance, unplugging the hotel reservation system, Grippo says. A great failure during the conversion—especially one that could have been prevented with better planning—could keep guests from coming back.