A focus on both brand consistency and guest satisfaction marks the key initiatives for Choice Hotels International in the coming year. At the company's annual franchise conference in May in Las Vegas, management unveiled a number of new strategies to address both concerns, as well as franchisee profitability.

“What has been one of our strengths — our flexibility as a franchisor in helping you deal with our brand standards — now threatens to become a weakness caused by a lack of brand consistency,” Choice Chairman and CEO Charles Ledsinger bluntly told an audience of franchisees. “The marketplace is changing, and guest expectation is changing as well, and consumers want more for their travel dollars. We have to change as well, both Choice and you, our franchisees.”

At flagship brands Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites, product enhancements will focus on the basics.

“Guests tell us they care about beds, the bathroom and breakfast,” says Aaron Katz, vice president, brand strategy. “Rather than chase the competitors, however, we're devoting our resources to areas that are most likely to drive business to — and revenues for — our hotels.”

By the end of the year, Comfort Inn breakfast service will expand to include pastries, hot waffles and gourmet coffee, as well as standardized service pieces. The Comfort Suites menu will include eggs, hot breakfast meats, fresh fruit and premium coffee.

By mid-2006, bathrooms in both brands will feature upgraded terry and a new line of proprietary amenities. Shower curtains without hooks will complete the package at Comfort Suites. New bedding packages are being tested for both brands.

Choice management realizes it shares responsibility to make the upgrading process work. As Ledsinger told the franchisees, “we must be clear in telling you what we expect in terms of new services, amenities and operational requirements. We have to bring tighter enforcement to our brand standards. And we're going to get serious about measuring guest satisfaction so we can rank all of our hotels by brand in terms of how well they meet and exceed guest expectations.”

Along with the brand enhancements, Choice also rolled out several programs to help franchisees improve revenue management, marketing and operations.

In revenue management, the company's franchise service directors will create custom action plans to address specific operational issues that affect sales — everything from front desk selling and price analysis to physical plant issues. The chain's ResCoach program helps properties build reservations call conversions and front desk rate yield.

The company also plans to enhance its toll-free one-stop Franchise Contact Center to include click-to-chat capabilities from Choice's intranet site.

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