LODGING recently sat down with BWH Hotel Group CEO Larry Cuculic and Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Brad LeBlanc specifically to discuss the growth of its SureStay Hotel Group, which recently surpassed 400 properties globally and 250 hotels in North America. Both say the growth of what they call their “premium economy brand” is occurring “organically” based on SureStay’s selection of hotels with different features and amenities, which enables hoteliers to find the right product for their market.
LeBlanc describes conditions in the economy market that inspired their decision to create SureStay as “inconsistent,” saying, “Knowing the market has an economy set that’s highly inconsistent, BWH recognized the opportunity to step in, as a trusted brand, and apply standards that could make it a consistent offering in our target market, and make owners part of a family they can trust.”
LeBlanc notes that the vast majority of the properties are conversions of “an eclectic mix of hotels,” but asserts that where the consistency comes in most of all is on the inside. “The outside can be an interior or exterior [corridor], and they can be one story or four story, but owners must be willing to inject capital sufficient to bring the guestrooms to a certain level of standards.”
Both LeBlanc and Cuculic realize that most economy hotel owners can’t afford to bring properties to the level of an upscale offering, but say they must be willing to make a “real investment” to convert to SureStay.
Cuculic says the objective of this investment is to bring them into “the upper economy segment,” that is, “to differentiate themselves from the run-of-the-mill economy product, and thereby able to command a higher ADR, recoup that investment, and compete better with the rest of the economy segment.”
LeBlanc says the SureStay brand—whether it’s SureStay, SureStay Plus, SureStay Studio, or SureStay Collection—most of all defines what guests may expect in terms of basics. “The bedding, size of television, breakfast offerings, and smile behind the desk are important to the consumer journey at the economy level. We may not find that in the rest of the economy set.” And when it comes to safety and wellness standards, they affirm, SureStay is “segment agnostic,” because, as LeBlanc puts it, “We bring the same standards across all of our chains to make sure we care as a family about health and security.”
What separates the different segments within SureStay, say Cuculic and LeBlanc, are amenities that go beyond the basics, such as those found at the more upscale chain hotels, “like a full-service restaurant, plus maybe a bar, a larger room, and slightly nicer toiletries and bedding”—extras beyond what price-sensitive guests in particular want. “Many of our consumers just want a nice, clean room and a simple breakfast offering—not a sit-down restaurant—and then get back on the interstate or go about their work,” says LeBlanc.
LeBlanc and Cuculic say what all SureStay owners can expect is support from a worldwide organization in myriad ways, including guidance on labor issues and safety protocols, and reaping the benefits of their procurement programs, reservation and revenue management systems, and their Best Western Rewards loyalty program.
As for the growth of SureStay, Cuculic particularly praises the efforts of LeBlanc. “Brad and his team identified the hotels and the hoteliers willing to invest capital to establish a brand that can dominate its market by being better than the rest of that comp set.”
While Cuculic expects the number of SureStay hotels to soon reach the 500 mark “because there is demand for the offering,” he stresses that “bigger is not always better” unless the product is right. “What I’m looking for is consistency. I don’t want to get to 800 without it being the right product.”
Cuculic sees a bright future for the brand not so much because of demand for economy products in general as demand for its particular offering. “The segment is the segment. The reason SureStay is growing amongst a lot of chains that are not growing is that we’re growing prudently with the right product.”