Choice Accelerates Plans for Recovery

Comfort Brands Get New Look, Cambria Suites Getting Financial Push

Steve Joyce’s message to franchisees was simple. It was also the title of Choice Hotels’ annual convention—“Time to Accelerate”—held in Boston the past three days.

A rendering of the new Comfort Suites lobby.

Joyce, the company’s CEO who earlier this year endeared himself to viewers of reality show UndercoverBoss, told attendees the future was bright and it was time to accelerate their performance, in driving both rate and customer satisfaction.

Choice’s actions during the three-day event backed up his words. The company announced and unveiled a redesign of its core brands, Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites (2,621 are open worldwide). Michael Murphy, the new head of Cambria Suites, and Brad LeBlanc, vice president of franchise development, upscale brands, talked about the largest investment ever approved by Choice’s board of directors, a $250-million boost of potential equity an/or debt investment to revive Cambria by helping multi-unit developers and urban projects get off the ground.

Bruce Haase, executive vice president, global brands, development and marketing, introduced a new marketing campaign titled “Your Choice, Your Voice” to attendees and later said during a media roundtable that the company would become more aggressive in enforcing standards and holding franchisees accountable. “Bad hotels can’t hide anymore,” he said. “We will be more proactive and take an aggressive approach with Comfort Inn.”

The new look of the Comfort brands, titled “Truly Yours,” includes warm and earthen colors and features, to provide guests with a true “home away from home” feel, said Christina Williamson, senior director of brand planning and management for the Comfort brand family.

The new Comfort Inn guestroom.

Lobbies of both brands will feature dark wood-style flooring, flexible seating and a stone backdrop behind the front desk providing soft lighting, meant to induce the feel of a hearth.

The Comfort Suites guestrooms will have oversized showers, sectional sleeper sofas and beds with triple sheeting. A handy luggage bench offers two large drawers, leaving room for the microwave, refrigerator and one more drawer in a multi-purpose bureau. The flat-screen TV will be mounted onto the wall in Comfort Suites, and on the bureau in Comfort Inns.

Brenda Wulff, director of product design and innovation for Choice, said this was the most researched redesign Choice has ever done. She said parts of the new package, beginning with the bedding, will be available in September and a prototype should be ready for 2012.

The Comfort Suites guestroom.

“This was a great way to take advantage of the downturn,” said Joyce of the Comfort remake and being able to use renowned design firm Gensler, which typically focuses on higher-end brands and properties.

The Comfort remake is part of Joyce’s goal to draw more business travelers to Choice’s family of brands already so successful with leisure travelers. The continued focus on Cambria Suites is further proof of that as Choice is giving the stalled upscale brand introduced six years ago another strong push (LeBlanc said the goal was to have 150 properties open by 2018, a huge increase from today’s 19). The Ascend Collection also has allowed Choice entry into mostly urban markets where they’ve had little distribution.

And Joyce once again mentioned the desire to add a full-service brand through acquisition. He said Choice would broaden its search for a brand internationally since no brands became available in the U.S. during the downturn.

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