Last month, Choice Hotels pulled the trigger on the launch of its long-awaited entry into the lower upscale segment of the market. Cambria Suites, an all-new construction, all-suites product, was meticulously conceived to meet the needs of both consumers and developers.

“For some time, we've had franchisees who wanted a product at a higher price point because, in some cases, they had locations for development that require a hotel to generate higher rates than our current brands could provide,” says Choice President & CEO Charles Ledsinger. The cutting-edge, but comfortable design of the guest-rooms and public space should appeal to customer segments — such as business travelers and Gen Xers — not typically served by some other Choice brands.

The company says it focused its design process to maximize returns on investment for developers. As example, the 100- to 150-unit properties require just two acres of land and cost $63,000 per key, plus land, to develop, yet Choice execs expect the hotels to generate ADRs of $85 to $90, or even $100 in some locations.

Choice originally hatched the idea for the brand four years ago, but the post-Sept. 11 hotel environment forced the company to put it on a back burner. As part of the development process, a full-blown prototype of a guest suite was constructed at the chain's convention last spring and franchisees, vendors and media were asked to tour the unit and provide candid critiques. “While we honestly sought their opinions on the product, it also enabled us to get buy-in from our franchisee community,” says Ledsinger. The process provided the development team with a number of useful ideas to modify the product.

The properties will feature large, well-appointed suites with separate living and bedroom areas. Standard suite amenities include upscale linens, refrigerator, microwave, plasma TV, ergonomic desk and high-speed Internet access. The guest unit features a unique open-grid separator between the living and bedroom areas. It creates a feeling of spaciousness and saves on operating costs since one HVAC unit serves both sides of the suite.

The lounge-like lobby has a large-screen TV, coffee bar and lobby bar with drinks and grab-and-go food. Other elements: breakfast buffet, 24/7 convenience store, fitness area, indoor pool and 1,000 square feet of meeting space.

Ledsinger admits that as a new-build product, it will take some time for Cambria to reach a critical mass, but “it's imperative in order for us to create the kind of brand we want and that will provide maximum return on investment for owners.”

Choice hired a five-person franchise sales team to push the product, and Ledsinger believes initially between 10 and 20 Cambrias will be built each year. Over time, the chain could grow to 500 units, says Ledsinger.

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