In September, Choice Hotels International unveiled a brand extension of Clarion designed to meet the increased demand from hotel owners for a new select-service opportunity that is a differentiator in the midscale segment. LODGING caught up with Anne Smith, vice president of brand management, design, and compliance, during this year’s Lodging Conference to discuss Choice’s strategy behind launching the Clarion Pointe and what differentiates the brand for guests and owners.
What was the strategy behind launching Clarion Pointe?
What we started to see emerging was this desire for more affordable premiums. We’ve seen a lot of things happen in the lifestyle space, luxury space, and select-service, but there are guests who don’t want that to be confined to a price point that’s out of their reach. We started looking at how to deliver affordable premiums to the midscale guest and do it in a way that also makes sense for an owner who is running a limited-service property and wants to convert, elevate, and deliver that higher experience because that improves the value of their asset long-term.
How did guests influence the design of Clarion Pointe?
In talking to guests, there are a few things that they cared a lot about, and those are what informed our focal points. The contemporary design is actually something that was important for owners, too. Owners of hotels that want to upgrade the look and feel, without vetting the place and without adopting some mandated design package that’s not affordable. Instead, the design focuses on specific places in the hotel, like the signature murals, that allow the hotel to have a sense of place and are customizable for the owners, so they don’t feel like they’re adopting a cookie cutter experience.
The curated food and beverage program was pulled from the parent brand, Clarion, which offers more full-service food and beverage. There is beer and wine for purchase, breakfast with health-forward and nutrition-focused options, and the marketplace requirement, which allows the overall public space to be more about that social gathering space—another hallmark of Clarion.
Technology continues to be more and more important in delivering an experience that’s frictionless for the guest. Guests come in with devices and want to be able to use them as they would at home, so streaming capabilities, casting to the TV, and a larger TV were important. We brought casting into the fitness center, too. If you have workouts on your phone or you subscribe to a service, being able to stream on the TV while you’re on the treadmill or on a spin bike is a great opportunity to elevate that fitness center, but all at a midscale price point.
What markets is Clarion Pointe entering?
We have a little over 50 projects that are in our pipeline right now, and the first three we expect to open are in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Medford, Oregon, and Florence, Mississippi, which will probably be the first one to open. It’s great to work with these owners not only on delivering the brand promise but also hearing their feedback so that we can continue to make this successful for other operators in the future.
Are you seeing mostly branded or independent properties switching over to Clarion Pointe?
We’ve actually seen both. In our pipeline right now, we’ve had some branded and some non-branded. Our Florence, Mississippi, location was an independent hotel, but our Medford, Oregon, property was a branded hotel. One of the great things about conversions is you really get to know the existing property first and work with that owner on the right PIP, because the properties aren’t one size fits all.
What is attracting owners to Clarion Pointe?
Owners are looking to generate a higher rate or, ultimately, they’ve got a portfolio of hotels and they’re looking at the trade value of all of them. We give them an opportunity to command a higher RevPAR without that coming with operating costs that just basically wipe out the benefits. We’re looking at updating the design—not in every spot of the hotel, but the place where we can really add the personal finish. For example, breakfast—what we heard from guests was that the huge smorgasbord is not what they want. That’s great news for an owner because that means it’s less equipment, it’s less complicated ordering, less food wastage, and ultimately lower CPOR for the breakfast. If we can save money for owners in those places, there’s an opportunity to enhance the experience.