Extended Stay America, Inc., CEO Bruce Haase is so successfully steering ESA through the COVID-19 pandemic that not a single one of its 636 properties shut down during the crisis. As Haase told LODGING, “ESA provides guests with everything they need for an extended-stay—clean and healthy rooms and suites, full kitchens, and high-speed WiFi.” However, he adds, while the strength of the ESA business model was key in ESA’s ability to persevere, it was equally important for the entire organization to quickly pull together and focus its team on identifying and securing new sources of demand in a rapidly changing environment.
It was through Haase’s background in finance—including a Wharton MBA— that he first stumbled into the hospitality career he describes. “I took a finance position with Marriott Corporation, mainly to get back to the Washington, D.C.-area, after spending a couple of years on Wall Street in New York.” When Marriott privatized and spun off its inflight catering business as Caterair International Corporation, he became treasurer of the enterprise.
Haase’s real education in the hospitality business, he says, came at Choice Hotels International. “If I was ever in the right place at the right time, it was then.” Although he went in as treasurer in 2000, within six months, he was asked by the CEO to take over Choice’s struggling international division. “In some countries, it was basically a startup, and in others, we needed to execute a turnaround, all within a very established domestic organization,” he explains.
He spent more than a decade introducing Choice’s brand in about 40 countries to build a profitable part of the company. It was during this time, too, he fell in love with the hospitality business. He recalls, “It was a wonderful time in my career. I had the opportunity to introduce iconic American brands in countries where they were completely unknown. I met so many great people and learned about so many cultures, seeing how different hospitality is as you travel from one country to the next.”
What Haase learned in the process, he says, rounded out his understanding of the business. “I had to pivot pretty quickly from my finance background to learn operations, marketing, distribution, development, and brand management, because Choice did not have the resources overseas they had in the United States. I became a pretty well-rounded hotelier,” he describes.
“We are following all the CDC guidelines, with expanded cleaning practices and supporting social distancing. We have also developed contactless ways to exchange linens, and guests have more options about when and if they want their rooms cleaned.”
It wasn’t until he took a position as CEO of Value Place, which he later rebranded as WoodSpring Suites, now owned by Choice Hotels International, that he learned about the extended-stay market. “I thought I knew a lot about the business, but I learned then what is different and quite special about this segment of the industry, how guests who are staying for an extended period of time have different concerns and requirements than those who are staying for only a day or two.”
He says because ESA deals exclusively with extended-stay properties, it can harness what it knows about its customers and their needs to maximum advantage, including in the current crisis. “We are the only company in the industry solely dedicated to the extended-stay segment of the industry. That means we have dedicated resources that the diverse transient brand families do not. For example, our sales force is 100 percent focused on finding extended-stay customers, our website is optimized for long-stay customers, and our call center is trained to sell this specific type of stay.”
As Haase sees it, what guests always want—but especially now—is to have control over their travel experience, saying, “If you think about it, we are built for this environment—mainly because we have kitchens—so if you are afraid to go to a restaurant or are in a new city where you are not sure what the rules are, you can at least prepare your own meals.” He says apart from the ways ESA has always been poised to serve guests during transitions, the company’s “Stay Confident” initiative is a direct response to the pandemic. “We are following all the CDC guidelines, with expanded cleaning practices and supporting social distancing. We have also developed contactless ways to exchange linens, and guests have more options about when and if they want their rooms cleaned.”
Haase says those considering franchise opportunities might well regard ESA’s management of its business during the current crisis is proof-positive of the dedicated extended-stay concept. “What I always say when people ask about franchising with ESA is we offer two things franchisees want most from their franchisor: a well-respected brand name; and the ability to deliver extended-stay guests to their properties—something the big brand families simply cannot do as well due to ESA’s exclusive focus on the extended-stay segment.”