2. Take risks, within reason
The property that will debut in May as the Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center was a Renaissance Hotel for more than a quarter century until 2011. Looking at “an empty, decrepit building” and seeing a mid-century modern luxury hotel takes vision, creativity, and an understanding of the market, says Dave Marr, head of brand management for North America at Starwood Hotels. “It’s like doing a brand new hotel.”
No duvet is being left unturned during this conversion. “We basically gutted this building to the studs,” Marr says. A new restaurant and bar will overlook the hotel’s expanded public spaces, meant to cater to modern guests. A concierge lounge will be added for top clients. And the showcase of the conversion, he says, is the reclad of the entire façade. “It’s one of the biggest wows.”
But with an estimated price tag of close to $21 million, Marr says every risk during the conversion is taken with the return on investment in mind. (The hotel is owned by RockBridge and managed by Wischermann Partners Inc.) “You want to make sure from an owner’s perspective that the return was there,” he says. “We want to make sure the market can sustain that type of product.”
Costly decisions were always made with the ideal hotel guest in mind, Marr says. Le Méridien targets creative-minded travelers who are curious and defined by an urge to learn, discover, and uncover new places, tastes, cultures, and aesthetic experiences. The 172-room Chicago property sits inside a high-end retail destination with shops including Tiffany & Co. and Nordstrom and several corporate offices. “[With] both corporate business midweek and leisure business on weekends,” Marr says, “it was the perfect opportunity for the Le Méridien brand.”
3. Use your parent company
For the Hotel Indigo Anaheim, one of the benefits of being associated with IHG, Winslow says, was the use of the company’s resources to create an innovative communications program around the conversion. Guests learned about the new hotel through a loyalty program, local sales teams deployed to inform clients of the brand change, and an IHG renovation toolkit, featuring posters, elevator signs, and more, helped the hotel communicate with guests about the renovation, she says.
When an IHG property converts from another brand or commercial asset, Winslow says the hotel doesn’t typically remain open to guests. But in this case, since both the Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn Express are IHG brands, the hotel remained operational throughout the conversion. Hotel staff managed the potentially fraught situation by leveraging IHG’s operations and sales support and working with the new hotel opening team. “If you are converting to a brand that has a strong parent company behind it, make sure you leverage all of those resources,” Winslow says. “There’s no way we could have done this without the extensive network within IHG.”