Hotel RL, Red Lion Hotels’ recently launched lifestyle brand, is a conversion play targeting the top 80 U.S. urban markets. The idea behind the brand is to present an authentic experience that taps into the ethos of the Pacific Northwest and the mindset of younger leisure/business travelers.
“We saw that there was a huge opportunity for a three-star lifestyle brand that’s centered around the millennial mindset and also focused on conversion opportunities,” says Red Lion Hotel CEO Greg Mount. “There’s a lot of brand saturation in some key marketplaces.” As Mount sees it, owners looking to put money back into their hotels in these markets will be reinvesting in the same business models that drove the baby boomer generation. “The millennial mindset is what’s really moving in,” Mount says. “We are offering an opportunity to be a very different option in that conversion process.”
In conceiving Hotel RL, Red Lion’s Chief Marketing Officer Bill Linehan says the company was inspired by the idea of hotels being the center of a town’s activities—where people could gather and find interesting people to talk to and to conduct business with.
“From our standpoint, we really want to look to animate our lobbies in a way that provides people the convenience and the comfort to collaborate.” Mount is quick to point out, though, that this idea of being plugged into a local community needs to be authentic to work. “We’re not looking to be mechanical about this and program it. We want to help create that pathway for our guests and members of the local community to collaborate in our lobbies.”
With that in mind, the brand rethought the way that people gather in spaces, says Ron Swidler, principle at the Gettys Group, the design firm that collaborated with Red Lion to develop Hotel RL. “We don’t have to be stuck with tables and chairs where one person sits alone but instead reinvent the communal table to make it into an architectural configuration.”
This was the design impetus behind the lobby’s prototype seating concept, called The Steps, which are a set of large wooden benches that are easily reconfigurable for different groups, local events, and even entertainment settings. “It’s one thing to say that the wine hour, the manager’s reception, is a way to activate the lobby space,” Swidler says. “Imagine what can happen to a space when it’s activated through programming and having an author, a musician, a poet, or someone else utilize that as a forum for activating the lobby with the Artists-in-Residence program.”
Red Lion took these same notions into conceiving the Hotel RL guestroom, Mount says, doing away with the closet area, for instance, and creating a changing room instead. The Hotel RL guestroom prototype also does away with the standard desk. “No one really uses it except for to drop your gear, so instead we added a gear drop,” Mount says. “By opening up the room this way, we now have two conversation areas.”
Their research found that the number of guest who do their work in bed was high, especially when compared to the number who work at the desk, Swidler says, adding that there was a time when brands were pridefully touting large desks in their guestrooms. “Now they’re no longer required, so we can focus on creating a variety of places for people to talk on the phone or work on a tablet or laptop.”
This being a conversion brand, the idea of adaptability is built into Hotel RL’s DNA. “We’re going to approach owners with a set of what we call signature moments, and ask them to focus in on a dozen of these that they can implement in their hotel and in their market, and that they think will have an impact,” Mount says. “Then we’ll go from there.” For instance, Swidler adds, if there is no food and beverage in the lobby, they want to activate that lobby with a great coffee experience.
“We think this conversion space of 20-, 25-, 30-year-old boxes is really an area that is right for this type of a brand,” Mount says. To entice owners and developers to the brand, Red Lion is franchising Hotel RL at a flat-fee structure instead of through the traditional royalty fees, with flexible terms and termination clauses that are owner-friendly. “This really takes away a lot of the negotiations and the nit-picking, if you will, of what we should and shouldn’t do,” Mount says. “We’re going to test this fee structure out in RL, and then, based on if people like it, we tweak it, and we’ll then bring it into the other brands.”