CHOICE BETS ON EXTENDED STAY

With the right person in charge and a solid strategy in place, Choice Hotels seems finally ready to make its mark in the booming extended-stay hotel market. While its had the MainStay Suites brand for 10 years, it wasn't until last year's acquisition of Suburban Extended Stay Hotels and the arrival of Kevin Lewis did it seem as though the company knew what course to follow in the segment.

“We've now retooled MainStay Suites and have it on solid ground,” says Lewis, Choice's vice president of extended-stay brands and former president of Suburban. The brand has less than 30 properties open, reflecting its high development costs and the company's lack of focus on the segment. “We've got a new prototype in the works, and we're creating a culture in the company and among franchisees that embraces the extended-stay business model.”

The company is putting money and resources behind its efforts in the segment. A dedicated extended-stay service and support team provides coaching to franchisees on both the basics and nuances of marketing and operating these properties for maximum performance. The efforts are paying off: In 2005, RevPAR rose by 12 percent for MainStay and 11 percent for Suburban.

Choice is also serious about growing the two flags. A nine-person development team focuses solely on extended stay, and the company earmarked one-third of its franchise development marketing budget to promote growth in the segment.

Lewis has identified about 200 markets that are ripe for Choice's extended-stay offerings. The team signed six franchise agreements in the first quarter and is working on additional deals.

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