Choice Hotels International this week marked its 80th anniversary by bringing together more than 5,000 hotel owners, general managers, and hotel staff for the company’s 65th annual convention in Las Vegas. Through year’s theme, “Stand Out”, executives presented a vision for the future of Choice and its brands—including refreshed logos for Quality Inn, Clarion, Sleep Inn, and MainStay Suites—and encouraged franchisees to step up and stand out in their markets and communities using new and existing resources in their toolbox.
“It’s never been a more important time to stand out. Today, there are more hotel brands for travelers to choose from and more competition for you,” Choice Hotels President and CEO Pat Pacious told attendees during Tuesday’s opening session. “In today’s tight labor market, you also have to stand out in order to attract and retain the right talent.”
During the opening session, Pacious went on to explain how the company has been strengthening its midscale presence, growing its upscale and extended-stay portfolios, and making investments in technology. He announced that Choice has now surpassed 7,000 open hotels worldwide. The company had the best domestic development year in more than a decade in 2018, leading to the largest U.S. hotel pipeline in its history.
Refreshing Midscale Brands
Choice’s midscale brands announced their own individual milestones during the convention. In the past year, Choice transformed its Comfort brand through a new logo and renovations, all while doubling its pipeline of Comfort Hotels largely through new-build development. Building on that momentum, the company announced plans for a new marketing campaign this summer to share Comfort’s new image with guests.
Following Comfort’s successful evolution, Choice is taking steps toward refreshing other legacy brands in its midscale portfolio, including rolling out new logos for Quality Inn, Clarion, Sleep Inn, and MainStay Suites. Optimized for digital channels and designed to reflect both the brands’ traditions and potential, all the new logos will include a “By Choice Hotels” tagline. Hotel owners will begin transitioning their signage to the new logos over the next two to three years on the hotel’s exterior and on digital and social channels.
Anne Smith, Choice’s vice president of brand management and design, explained that the company tested the new logos extensively with both guests and owners during development, and continues to pay attention to how owners are responding to the new look. “When you have the unveiling, there is an emotional response on many levels—how it looks, what this means for me, how old my sign is, how I’m performing right now. You have to allow those reactions to happen,” she said. “We want to hear the reactions of our owners—visceral and rational—because they’re both really important to the success of the outcome.”
Smith added that Choice was conscious of managing costs when designing its requirements for updating new signage—for instance, upgrading sign faces and adding efficient bulbs rather than replacing full monument signs. The company also plans to incentivize early adopters through cost sharing.
Quality Inn, which had the most midscale brand openings last year and has since surpassed 1,600 hotels in the United States, is among the brands getting new looks. The modernized logo capitalizes on its 80 years of history and brand awareness by incorporating the brand’s “Q” and green that signals value. In tandem with the update, Pacious also revealed plans to say goodbye to underperforming hotels in the brand’s portfolio.
“The new sign is a powerful endorsement that communicates the bond that’s linked Choice and Quality for the last 80 years,” Pacious told attendees during the Quality Inn brand session. “It’s a way to signal the midscale leadership of the brand that created the category and still fuels its growth today. That’s why it’s critical to make sure every Quality that flies the new flag is delivering on what it means to be a Quality—a midscale leader for the last 80 years and the next 80 years.”
In a roundtable with media, John Bonds, senior vice president, enterprise operations and technology, elaborated on what this move to exit underperforming properties means for those owners who have already been notified and provided a cure period. He explained that at last year’s convention, the company made a similar announcement in the Comfort Inn brand session and worked with many franchisees to convert properties to another brand in Choice’s family that was a better fit—an option that he anticipates many hoteliers will have with Quality Inn as well.
Choice also rolled out a refreshed logo for Clarion that compliments the look of its brand extension, Clarion Pointe, with the distinction of capitalization versus lowercase text to signal a more premium brand. Clarion Point, which launched last year and opened its first property this week, has 30 additional planned locations, putting the Clarion brand on the map in more cities nationwide. In 2018, Choice awarded 85 percent more Clarion contracts than the year before and saw its number of openings rise 30 percent. The company is further fueling growth by offering financial incentives for existing owners to add another Clarion to their portfolio.
Sleep Inn, which welcomed its 400th hotel this year, also rolled out a logo that signal’s the brand’s modernization. Its dual-brand counterpart—Choice’s midscale extended-stay MainStay Suites brand—has a new logo as well, and the two are designed to compliment each other as Choice’s dual-brand pipeline expands. Last year, the company signed deals to add 42 dual-brand properties.
Combined, these midscale brands expect to open more than 150 hotels in 2019, including in markets like Brooklyn, Nashville, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and San Diego.
Growth of Extended-Stay
Last year, Choice acquired the economy, extended-stay brand WoodSpring Suites, bolstering its existing extended-stay portfolio, which includes Suburban and MainStay Suites.
Ron Burgett, vice president of extended stay-development, noted that this segment is booming—25 percent of all lodging properties being built right now are extended stay. Choice is putting more focus on this lucrative business, signing an additional 20 Suburban, 66 MainStay Suites, and 42 dual-brand Sleep Inn and MainStay Suites last year on top of its continued WoodSpring Suites development. WoodSpring Suites opened its 250th property in April.
Ramping Up Upscale
In 2018, Choice’s Ascend Hotel Collection signed the most franchise agreements in a single year in the soft brand’s history. Meanwhile, its upscale Cambria Hotels brand is on track to reach 50 open properties in 2019, with a goal of doubling that portfolio by 2021. The company is throwing its weight behind the Cambria brand in particular, with a $700 million commitment to development, investments in technology, and enhanced sales and and marketing, among other areas. This is the single largest investment Choice Hotels is making, according to Janis Cannon, senior vice president of upscale brands.
“The brand’s performing extremely well. We’re seeing current owners who are doing additional projects,” Cannon said. “From a guest perspective, one thing that we’re really proud of is that over half of our portfolio are in the top 10 on TripAdvisor in their markets and destinations where they’re located.”
Cannon added that guest and owner satisfaction combined with the capital support from Choice will help propel Cambria forward over the coming years. “We’re firing on all cylinders during a pivotal time for the brand,” she said.
Economy Brand Milestones
At Choice’s 65th Annual Convention this year, Econo Lodge celebrated its 50th year. The brand continues to execute its guestroom improvement program while also growing its footprint, celebrating a record 53 property openings in 2018. Rodeway Inn also reached its own brand milestone, surpassing 600 hotels last year.
“What a landmark moment to celebrate,” Pacious told attendees during the Econo Lodge brand session before raising a champagne toast—complete with confetti cannon—to the past 50 years and next 50 years of the brand. “I’m proud of the hotels you own and run, I’m proud of the people who are using the power of Choice to amplify your business and get big results, and I’m proud of our Choice team, who are finding ways to make you more efficient, more profitable, and more valuable.”