With the theme “Mindful. Genuine. Welcoming,” the 2014 Country Inns and Suites Business Conference focused on the brand’s commitment to delivering an exceptional guest experience, said Scott Meyer, senior vice president, midscale brands, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Americas.
“We’ve been on a journey for the past few years,” he said. “This is the last leg.”
They’ve previously worked on hard amenities, such as updating the breakfast selection with more variety and improving the dining ware; and a new brand identity and exterior and interior design package highlighted the 2013 meeting.
While discussing the importance of human-to-human interaction, Gordon McKinnon, executive vice president and chief branding officer, Carlson, told the audience that 100 touchpoints can have a significant impact on the relationship with guests, who will likely share their opinions with others.
“Everyone is an expert on everything,” said McKinnon, during the keynote address at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas, with more than 600 hotel owners, management company representatives, and general mangers in attendance. “This is not something we can hide from. To overcome it, we have to become better at what we do.”
As a way to step out from the crowd, Country Inns and Suites just completed the first phase of a research project with a globally recognized research firm, said Suzy Riesterer, chief commercial officer, Americas. Their objectives included: to understand the guest experience and map the journey; to look outside the hotel industry for trends, inspiration, and ideas; and to uncover and help prioritize areas they need to fix to stay competitive “but more importantly, opportunities to differentiate and win.”
As part of the project, they recruited 100 travelers, which stayed at their brands and competitors in eight countries, she said. The research team followed the travelers from the time they started planning their trip all the way to the end of the experience.
Among the high-level items the researchers discovered:
- Few hotel companies do well with the pre-stay part of the journey.
- The check-in doesn’t have to be make or break.
- Hotels should embrace the negative. “We know things will go wrong,” Riesterer said. “It’s the way we respond that has a big impact on the experience.”
- The little things matter most, such as a name remembered, a smile, or unexpected gift of appreciation.
- Social media is a powerful bridge between pre- and post-stay, and it allows hotels to connect with their guests throughout the experience.
- Millennials demand personalization and truly unique experiences.
Brand Identity Update
One year in, Meyer is more than satisfied with the rollout of Country Inns and Suites’ new brand identity, including a fresh logo and Generation 4 design package, both geared to broaden its appeal to younger consumers and strengthen it with business travelers.
Customers have noticed all the subtle touches, which actually surprised Meyer a bit. For example, the decorative tile around the bathroom mirrors and the abundance of natural light that comes through the oversized hallway windows have guests buzzing.
“It’s just wonderful,” he said. “With the comments people have made, we know we really hit the mark.”
New Sponsor Agreement
Also out of the conference, Country Inns and Suites announced a three-year sponsorship agreement with Zach Johnson, a top 10 world-ranked PGA Tour professional, said Aurora Toth, vice president, midscale brands, Americas. The sponsorship will feature logo placement on Johnson’s apparel and will kick off at the Masters on April 10.
Johnson has won 11 PGA Tour events, including the 2007 Masters, and has played on three Ryder Cup and three Presidents Cup teams.
“PGA golf aligns well with our Country brand and demographics with our current baby boomer guests and target millennial guests,” said Meyer, noting there are 30 million golfers in North America and more than 100 million fans today. “This sponsorship provides the Country brand with exposure on both network and cable TV.”