Choice Hotels International’s 61st annual convention in Las Vegas last week was all about breaking through—differentiating its brands in the marketplace, redefining what the company stands for, and making an emotional connection with guests. This messaging accompanied the company’s new brand positioning, which emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions and connecting with other people.
During the opening corporate business session, Choice President and CEO Steve Joyce introduced the company’s new logo, advertising campaign, and brand mission: making guests feel welcome, wanted, and respected. A multi-platform program, the advertising campaign encourages guests to visit their people and targets consumers with TV, radio, digital, and mobile ads scored to the Clash’s classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The television ads are currently running on network primetime TV. The campaign drives people to Choice’s newly relaunched website, which is now the strongest online booking engine in the industry, Joyce said.
Joyce also announced that the company would be looking to fill a new position, the Ultimate People Person. “The sole job of the Choice Hotels People Person will be to travel across the United States to help bring attention to and celebrate the priceless in-person connections we make when we travel, whether it’s with friends, family, or colleagues,” he explained.
Throughout the event, Choice made clear that its rebranding initiative affected many different areas of the company, including a stronger focus on property improvement plans and property upgrades, a new and updated rewards program, and turning a spotlight on its brands in the upscale sector.
In 2015, Choice is coming off of its best year ever. The company reached its highest guest satisfaction score to date and occupancy and revenue per available room are up 5 percent and 8.5 percent from last year, respectively. According to Vice President of Brand Strategy Anne Smith, these numbers are propelling the company forward, which makes now the time for franchisees to invest in their properties. She especially drove this point home during the Comfort Inn brand session. “There’s too much opportunity now available to us in a world where Comfort Inn is surging. We have to keep moving, keep improving, and aiming to become even more consistent across the brand,” she said.
The updated Choice Privileges rewards program was retooled specifically with Choice’s target travelers in mind, and Jamie Russo, Choice’s newly minted vice president of loyalty programs, said the new system will attract more guests than ever before. “People are more than willing to pay when they feel like they’re getting real value for their money. In loyalty programs, you’ve got to give them tangible, honest, realizable rewards.” The new Choice Privileges no longer limits customers with booking windows or point expiration dates and makes points redemption more flexible, allowing guests to combine points with cash for partial payment and redeem nights at “sale prices” during low occupancy. More changes are to come, Russo said, with the goal of putting Choice’s customer loyalty program at the forefront of its rebranding efforts. The company is going on the offensive to roll out benefits that will draw in new guests, especially millennials and mid-week business travelers, and keep them loyal to the brand. “We may be at the beginning, but our future is here,” Russo said. “And it won’t be long before our guests know it too.”
Also in the future for Choice is business in the upscale sector of the industry. The Cambria and Ascend brands have been positioned for greater success and rapidly growing market saturation. “We’re going to add more hotels than anybody this year [in this segment],” Joyce said during a media roundtable. “If you look at the number of new entrants into that space, and the fact that we’re going to add more units than any of them, I think it’s just a testament to what we’re doing and what we have available.”
Choice made clear at the convention that the company is in it for the long haul, adding to its portfolio and increasing its footprint across all sectors of the industry in a thoughtful manner. And, not only is the company increasing its presence in the United States, it is also expanding its reach into European markets. “We’re looking to grow internationally in a big way,” Joyce said. “And it’s all about a European focus for us, because our model is going to work best in Europe.” Joyce cited Europe’s largely unbranded hotel market, combined with that market’s desire to move in a branded direction, as reasons it provides a prime opportunity for Choice. “It’s a conversion market, and that’s where we excel,” he said.