When Comfort and Sleep Inn grew tired, Joyce and his team mapped out comprehensive strategies to reinvigorate two of Choice’s biggest brands and achieve a higher level of consistency across the properties. Comfort has implemented higher standards for hotels, requires meaningful property improvement plans at contract windows, and targets underperforming properties for termination and replacement with new construction product. Choice even put its own financial skin in the game, with a $40 million property incentive program fund. Those efforts have resulted in 25 consecutive months of RevPAR index gains for Comfort, as of November 2016.
Sleep Inn rolled out its Design to Dream prototype and system-wide renovation initiative in 2010, and the brand has been stealing market share from the competition every year since, with 48 months of consecutive RevPAR index improvement, as of November 2016. The new construction, midscale brand revealed the latest evolution of the current prototype last May. “Both Sleep and Comfort are now running the highest premiums they’ve ever had, and the brands in total are running the highest intent to return from customers ever,” Joyce says.
Choice knew some franchisees would choose to walk away from the system rather than comply with mandated property improvements, but the cure rate was double what the company expected. That being said, Choice still terminated 600 Comfort properties. “That’s a lot of points to take off the scoreboard,” Joyce admits, “but the benefits will be significant going forward.”
Seeing an opportunity for a stronger international footprint, Choice created a market-specific international growth strategy, moving the brand into new areas and strengthening its position in existing markets. With a heavy focus on Europe, Choice has formed partnerships that will likely yield 46 properties between Austria, Hungary, and Germany; six to 10 hotels in France and Belgium; seven Ascend hotels in Turkey, and five properties in Greece.
Choice’s efforts in Europe have opened doors to other markets, such as a partnership in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for initially about 20 properties, potentially including two hotels in Mecca with 2,500 rooms each. “We’re driving a lot of multi-unit partnerships with incentive capital,” Joyce says. Today, nearly 20 percent of Choice’s hotels are international.
Another pain point Joyce identified when he joined Choice was a lack of corporate brand recognition. “When you used to say ‘Choice’ to people, they’d get a blank look on their face,” Joyce says. To bring the brand closer to consumers and form an emotional connection with guests, Choice introduced a new identity in May 2015 that included a new logo, a redesigned website, and an integrated advertising campaign. In addition to championing the connections people make through travel, the company wanted to showcase its full portfolio of brands, which span from economy to upscale. “Our plan to define each brand and execute those fundamentals for each brand in a human way has clearly resonated with the customer,” Joyce says.
The revamp of the Choice Privileges loyalty program early last year is another major driver of brand recognition. “In one year, we almost doubled the number of people who enrolled in the Choice Privileges program,” Joyce says. The program currently has more than 30 million members, up dramatically from only 7 million in 2008. Joyce expects annual growth to occur even faster, because the company offers discounted rates to loyalty members who book direct on ChoiceHotels.com.
According to Joyce, Choice’s brand awareness has increased from less than 50 percent in 2008 to more than 70 percent today. Aside from Choice Privileges and the brand relaunch, Joyce cites his appearance on the CBS reality TV series Undercover Boss in 2010 and Choice’s corporate social responsibility programs with Rebuilding Together, Boys & Girls Club of America, and the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men as other ways the company has become more visible with consumers.