Seventeen months ago, the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group introduced a new, more contemporary prototype for its well-established Country Inns and Suites brand. It was the brand’s fourth such overhaul. The objective of the “revitalization” was to broaden Country Inns and Suites’ audience, while retaining the loyal customers and franchisees that had supported the brand over the long term. Many of those loyal customers have been leisure travelers. The intention was to attract a broader demographic that would include more business and younger travelers. In this regard, introducing any new prototype involves an element of risk. Scott Meyer, Carlson Rezidor’s SVP for midscale brands in the Americas, describes the outcome.
The company has described the brand’s guests and franchisees as not being shy about discussing the changes they felt were necessary to make. Overall, in the time since the new prototype was launched, how has it been received? We felt we needed to grow and evolve the brand and chose to do so by updating our visual identity, hotel architecture, and interior design. Current owners, new franchisees, and guests have all responded positively to the changes. We’ve seen an increased interest in new development. Meanwhile, many owners of existing hotels have accelerated the pace of renovations on their properties.
Existing franchisees, in fact, have the option of updating their properties so as to make them consistent with the new prototype. How does this work, and have many chosen to do so? Owners are updating their properties to conform to the new prototype as it’s time for them to renovate. As it happens, half of our hotels have been open for only the past several years, or they have recently completed a renovation. So it will be a while before they need to implement the new prototype. The other half, however, will be making changes that bring them into compliance with the new Generation 4 standards.
The brand has hotels in markets as far-flung as Latin America and India, as well as North America. Though it’s hard to generalize, how would you describe the typical Country Inns and Suites franchisee? Our franchisees dedicate themselves to taking care of people with what we term “heartfelt hospitality.” At the same time, they’re smart business people and tend to be committed to their businesses. Remember, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group also owns and operates some Country Inns and Suites units itself. Consequently, we on the brand side understand directly the daily demands of operating a hotel. This, in turn, translates into understanding the needs of our franchisees. We’re all committed to providing a welcoming, comfortable environment for our guests.
Since the new prototype has been available, have you been successful in attracting new franchisees to both the brand and to Carlson Rezidor and completing new deals with your existing pool of franchisee partners? Yes on both fronts. They’re all interested in building or converting to our latest design. As of the end of the first quarter, we had 470 hotels in operation globally and another 43 in development in North America, Latin America, and India.
In the core U.S. market, are there regions where you’re especially interested in building distribution? The brand is growing across all markets. We were sure to build a degree of flexibility into the architectural design of the new prototype to ensure it would work in a range of destinations. We were confident, therefore, that the brand’s latest generation of hotels could be successful in a variety of geographic locations.