Meetings & Conventions - Carlson

Meetings & Conventions - Carlson

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMFeaturesHotel companies spent billions to reinvent these group-friendly chainsby Cheryl-Anne SturkenMay 1, 2011In an increasingly crowded hotel landscape, competition is fierce for portfolio growth andglobal expansion. And in the intense jockeying to attract new business, deliver on customerexpectations and draw legions of loyal guests, several hotel companies are investing heavilyin repositioning their core brands. As the market enjoys a swift recovery, hotel owners have achoice: Spend big to uphold brand standards or find a new flag."Most hotel franchise companies relaxed their standards during the 2008-2010 industryrecession in an effort to acknowledge the financial stress being experienced by theirfranchisees," says Mark Woodworth, president of Atlanta-based Colliers PKF HospitalityResearch. "That was yesterday. As the economy continues to improve, the customer isbecoming more discerning as well as demanding." According to PKF's preliminary estimates,profit growth for the hotel industry in 2010 was up 6.3 percent over 2009. Profit is projected toreach almost 11 percent this year and soar to 19 percent for 2012."There is a philosophy that suggests the quality of a brand is equal to the weakest link in thechain," says Woodworth. "To the degree that this is true, hotel companies recognize that theintegrity of a brand is critical to delivering financial returns, which makes maintenance ofbrand standards absolutely paramount."For the details and philosophy behind the branding and repositioning of well-establishedglobal chains, M&C spoke with senior executives at five major hotel companies: Best WesternInternational, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton, Holiday Inn Hotels andResorts, and Radisson Hotels & Resorts.BEST WESTERN> Parent company: Best WesternInternational> Portfolio: 4,000 hotels in 80 countries> New in 2011: Galveston, Texas; Nashville; Winterhaven,Fla.; Bangladesh; Berlin> In the pipeline: Several hundredIn February of this year, 65-year-old Phoenix-based BestWestern International officially launched a three-tieredbranding system in North America. The goal: to bringconsistency to the company's unwieldy and often confusing

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMportfolio of 2,200 hotels, which range from roadside motels to upscale, full-service conferenceproperties.Under the new branding system, hotels will be defined one of three ways: Best Western, BestWestern Plus, or Best Western Premier. "We expect to do more group business, because nowplanners know which hotels to book based on their individual needs," says Wendy Ferrill,managing director of worldwide sales for the chain.Here's what the new "descriptor" system means. Best Western hotels, at the economy end ofthe scale, typically carry a two-diamond rating by AAA and generally offer complimentaryhigh-speed Internet access, parking and breakfast. A notch above is Best Western Plus,usually three-diamond properties that provide a more premium experience, with higher-qualitybedding, upgraded in-room amenities and contemporary furnishings.In the rebranding effort, 1,047 economy hotels were offered the chance to invest in theirproduct and upgrade to the ‘Plus' level. Approximately 815 of them took the challenge andare expected to achieve their new designation by the end of this year.Best Western Premier properties are the crème de la crème of the chain. Launched in 2003,the line is 100 strong in Asia and Europe. To date, however, the North American portfolioconsists of just six hotels (in Cincinnati; Denton, Texas; Harrisburg and Lancaster, Pa.; Miami;and Napa, Calif.). This select group sports four-diamond ratings and is comprised mostly ofnew-builds and historic properties.Premier hotels must feature 33 services and amenities beyond what Best Western offers.Among them: larger guest rooms with luxury bed linens, 42-inch flat-screen televisions,bathrobes and room service. The 115-room Best Western Premier Ivy Napa Hotel, whichopened in Napa, Calif., this past January, is the quintessential example, featuring airy,loft-style guest rooms, a 24-hour business center, an outdoor heated pool, a full-servicerestaurant and 7,000 square feet of meeting space. More than a dozen Premier properties willbe added to the brand's North American portfolio by year's end.Hotels won't be able to rest on their new Plus and Premier status for too long, though. Theinitial rating is good for only three years. After that, properties will be reassessed yearly.Customer service is a key part of the core strategy for all tiers in the chain. "Best Western hasan ongoing customer care program known as ‘I Care.' It is one of the most intensive trainingprograms in the hospitality business," says Ferrill. "All Best Western hotels, regardless oftheir descriptor, must meet those strict standards of customer care."CROWNE PLAZA HOTELS &RESORTS> Parentcompany: InterContinentalHotels Group> Portfolio: 376 hotels in 60countries> New in 2011: Charleston,

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMIn 2009, White Plains,N.Y.-based StarwoodHotels & ResortsWorldwide wrapped up athree-year, $6 billionoverhaul of its Sheratonbrand, which has grown tomore than 400 propertiesin 70 countries. Of that, $4billion was invested in thechain's North Americanhotels. The brand'srevitalization effortincluded the followinginitiatives.• The installation of100,000 new SheratonSweet Sleeper beds;• The renovation of 70,000guest rooms (50,000 inNorth America alone);• 300 lobby makeovers;and• 98 full propertyrenovations, 12 of those inthe Starwood ConventionCollection group.Last September thecompany launched Shinefor Sheraton, a global spaconcept that includescustomized products andfive signature treatments.The new program will beavailable in all Sheratonproperties by year's end."We plan to make spa acornerstone of theSheraton brandexperience," says Hoyt H.Harper II, senior vicepresident for Sheraton.S.C.; Minneapolis; Bangkok,Thailand; Guangzhou, China;New Dehli, India> In the pipeline: 125Even as Atlanta-based InterContinental Hotels Group entersthe home stretch in wrapping up the dramatic $1 billionrebranding of its Holiday Inn brand, the hotel companyalready has unveiled its master plan for a sweepingrepositioning of its midsize, upscale Crowne Plaza brand, oneof IHG's fastest-growing product lines."Crowne Plaza is a big rock for IHG, which means it's one ofthe most important things we need to get right," says StacyBedsole, director of global guest experience for CrownePlaza. "As we did with the relaunch of Holiday Inn, we willtake stock of our portfolio around the world and ensure thatall hotels have a clear vision of what it means to be a CrownePlaza, and that all hotels are meeting that high standard."This year the brand will begin rolling out a slew of newinitiatives, currently being tested at nine hotels. Its maincustomer target is the business traveler. In fact, groupsrepresent fully 40 percent of Crowne Plaza's business, andthe aim is to capture and keep that market. New conceptsinclude a lighter, brighter color palette throughout allproperties, along with upgraded guest rooms that emphasizedelivering a "premium sleep experience." In-room diningmenus are being revamped as well, to offer a greater range ofoptions.Also high on the list of priorities is revamped meeting rooms.Crowne Plaza's new Creative Meeting Space concept, pilotedat its Atlanta property, promises to take the ho-hum out oftraditional meeting rooms and transform them into spacesthat spark creativity, explains Bedsole. The redesignedspaces will feature vibrant colors, modular seating,cutting-edge technology, interactive whiteboards, interestingartwork and handheld toys, like Rubik's Cubes.The concept has been an immediate hit. "The generalmanager of our test hotel in Atlanta said he could sell moremeeting space like it -- if he just had more," says Bedsole.Also rolling out this year is a new global service programdesigned to support Crowne Plaza's repositioning. In additionto mandatory employee training sessions, the program willidentify a "Brand Champion" employee at each property whowill be given the role of literally "championing" thecommitment to higher service standards amongst the troops.

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PM"Competitors can copy our designs and our products, butthey can't copy our service," says Bedsole. "Service issomething that can differentiate us from other hotels and giveour guests a reason to choose Crowne Plaza."Next, Starwood says it willinvest approximately $5billion to add more than 50new properties to theSheraton portfolio by theend of 2013. Much of thatexpansion will go tobeefing up a presence inChina, the brand's largestmarket after NorthAmerica. With 16 newhotels opening there thisyear, Sheraton willincrease its China portfolioto 53 by year's end.DOUBLETREE BY HILTON> Parent company: HiltonWorldwide> Portfolio: 240 hotels in 15 countries> New in 2011: More than 30, including Cleveland; LosAngeles; Raleigh, N.C.; Bangkok, Thailand; Istanbul, Turkey;and Panama City, Panama> In the pipeline: 45"Small in number but mighty in determination" could certainlybe DoubleTree by Hilton's motto. The brand, which got itsstart in 1969 when the first hotel opened in Scottsdale, Ariz.,became part of Hilton's family of hotels 30 years later, after amerger between Hilton and Promus Hotels Corp. Today,DoubleTree is in the midst of a major rebranding initiative, itsfirst important revamp in 15 years, and an explosiveexpansion. Early this year, Hilton Worldwide introduced a newbrand logo and added its muscle to the chain's name --DoubleTree by Hilton -- as part of the first phase of a majorbusiness strategy to relaunch the full-service brand on aglobal scale."The rebranding is much more than the new logo," says John Greenleaf, vice president ofmarketing for DoubleTree by Hilton. "The service we deliver is critical to the core culture andthe success of this brand, and that sometimes get lost in the rebranding story."Beginning this year, all DoubleTree by Hilton employees, from the upper echelons ofmanagement to groundskeepers, will be put through a new training program designed tosupport the brand's commitment to delivering a unique experience with the promise ofexceptional service. "It includes how to work with an on-site group, which has differentdemands than the individual traveler," notes Greenleaf.The initiative will emphasize strength and style for a brand that often has been eclipsed bysome of its own family members, namely Embassy Suites, which benefited from a majormultimillion-dollar repositioning in 2007. This new effort includes delivering a more refined,upscale product, from bedding to lobby bars and beyond. The brand's new Sweet Dreamssleep experience, for example, features a custom-designed mattress, plush pillows and highthread-count linens."People focus on a laundry list of amenities when they talk about rebranding," saysGreenleaf. "We are focusing on unique upgrades that add something our guests have told usthey truly desire during their stay, like really great fitness centers, flat-screen TVs and abusiness center for meeting groups."The addition of "by Hilton" in the DoubleTree name is a major endorsement for the brand,giving it significant leverage as it pushes for a higher profile in international markets. In fact, in

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMthe past several months alone, DoubleTree has signed multiple deals in Europe and Asia.Now a little more than four decades old, DoubleTree is on an aggressive expansion trajectory-- 30 new hotels are scheduled to open by year's end -- making it the fastest growing brand inthe Hilton portfolio.HOLIDAY INN HOTELS AND RESORTS> Parent company: InterContinental Hotels Group> Portfolio: 1,241 hotels worldwide (not including Holiday Inn Express)> New in 2011: Houston; Phoenix; Bogotá, Columbia; London> In the pipeline: Almost 900In 2007, after several years of research and in-depth customer and client surveys,Atlanta-based InterContinental Hotels Group set in motion an unprecedented $1 billionoverhaul of its iconic Holiday Inn brand. The ambitious three-year project -- seeded with $60million of IHG's own money -- is now reaping rewards. With rising guest satisfaction scores (itsbest since 2005) and a 3 to 7 percent jump in revenue per available room at relaunchedproperties, the brand is fast-tracked to regaining its status and full-service shine."We knew that Holiday Inn had not remained relevant, and we set out to bring it back," saysGina LaBarre, vice president, brand management, for IHG brands, Americas. "Now, it's acompletely different brand. Actually, it's really brand new."Say goodbye to the chintzy floral curtains, tired carpeting, and those drab and dowdy lobbies.Holiday Inn is going for airy, light, contemporary comfort. The rebranding effort, which beganwith a quality inspection and assessment of each hotel, demanded physical upgrades, suchas lobby and guest room transformations, including new bedding, linens and in-roomamenities; the ramping-up of food-and-beverage offerings; and the implementation of the newbrand's new signage, which features a large green and white "H" above the words HolidayInn.In addition, every Holiday Inn employee has had to take part in a training program dubbed"Stay Real," which emphasizes the brand's new service philosophy. To underscore itscommitment to delivering on service, the newly created position of Guest ExperienceChampion has been added at each hotel. "We sent teams to every hotel around the world toput our Holiday Inn employees through the training program," says LaBarre. "The service isgenuine and a very important element of the relaunch."For many owners, the capital investment required to meet the brand's new quality standardswere too costly, and ultimately hundreds of hotels were jettisoned from the portfolio byyear-end 2010. Today, 40 percent of Holiday Inn hotels have been in business for 10 years orless, which emphasizes the brand's new fresh, contemporary image. Among those propertiesthat invested in multimillion-dollar transformations:• The 521-room Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza Hotel has completed a $25 million top-downmakeover;• The 200-room Bridgeport Holiday Inn Conference Center in Bridgeport, Conn., recentlywrapped up a $7.5 million renovation; and• The 220-room Holiday Inn Tulsa City Center completed an $11 million renovation last year,

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMand in the process earned IHG's 2010 Renovation of the Year Award.The official three-year relaunch might be wrapping up, but IHG has still more plans in storefor Holiday Inn, such as the installation of "Social Hubs" -- spaces where guests can workduring the day and socialize at night -- at each property. A research and development teamcurrently is tinkering with a foam model at a warehouse in Boston. The first Social Hub will berolled out at later this year at a hotel in the Atlanta area."We are not done cultivating the culture of this brand," says LaBarre. "Everything fromindividual items on the menu to what the F&B areas look like, we are examining. We want thisbrand to be relevant to our guests and consistent in what it delivers."As hotel companiestweak their brand imagesto keep up with guests'evolving needs, whatshould we expect adecade from now? Traveltechnology anddistribution providerAmadeus commissionedFast Forward Research tostudy the topic. Theresulting report, Hotels2020: BeyondSegmentation, offerspredictions along withadvice to hoteliers forkeeping up with themarketplace.Among trends of note forthe coming decade, saysthe report, are significantadvances in sustainability;a convergence intechnology, media andtelecommunications; afocus on personalizedexperiences, aided bytechnology; and immersivetechnology -- with respectboth to the personalgadgets of the guests andRADISSON HOTELS &RESORTS> Parentcompany: Carlson> Portfolio: 425 worldwide> New in 2011: Chicago;Minneapolis; Cairo, Egypt;Dubai; Istanbul, Turkey> In the pipeline: 107In February 2010, at itsannual global businessconference,Minneapolis-based Carlson unveiled Ambition 2015, a boldstrategic plan that centered on increasing its global hotelfootprint by 50 percent and overhauling its Radisson brand.Today, the company is well on its way to achieving thosegoals."Radisson's story in North America is about transformationmore than growth," says Thorsten Kirschke, chief operatingofficer of Carlson Hotels and president of Carlson Hotels, theAmericas, in explaining the brand's progress. "We are stickingto our original plan, which was to improve the backbone ofthis brand, property by property."Carlson's ultimate vision for Radisson is to have it achieve astatus in North America equal to what it has enjoyed fordecades in Europe, that of a leading upscale, full-servicebrand with terrific service. So far, 80 percent of the brand'shotel owners have committed more than $500 million towardimplementing property improvements needed to meet thenew global standards. Carlson is projecting that 70 percent ofall Radisson properties in North America will be in complianceby year-end 2013. Those that won't commit to meeting thenew standards will be purged. Indeed, since the plan'simplementation, about 12 percent of hotels are no longer inthe Radisson portfolio, and Kirschke expects as much as

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMwhat those travelers willexpect to find in their hotelrooms. That last point iswhere hospitality and sci-fireally meet.Tech that could be widelyused in 2015 includesin-room concierges, whichwill initially take the formof tablet computers(before more roboticoptions are available);in-room entertainment allbuilt into a multimediacanopy bed; andmind-control headsetsallowing guests to controlcomputers, video gamesor even appliancesthrough thoughts andfacial expressions.By 2020, we could well beusing heads-up displays --to read Trip Advisorreviews, for instance --projected onto our glassesor contact lenses.Personal robots may serveas in-room butlers, or asporters or housekeepers.Developments in hapticstechnology, through whichone can "feel" virtualobjects on a screen, mayoverlap with increasedusage of 3-D holographicdisplays that providetactile feedback. In otherwords, meetingface-to-face may continueto take on new meaning,as will the idea of thevirtual handshake.another 15 percent attrition by the end of next year.Unlike many hotel companies that insist brand consistencycan be achieved only through conformity of design andservice options, Carlson is giving its owners license to reflectthe uniqueness of their individual markets. "We are absolutelyturning away from a one-size-fits-all model, because we thinkthat for our hotels to really thrive and meet guestexpectations, they must reflect the characteristics of theirindividual, local culture," says Kirschke.Radisson hotels will be challenged to add exciting newrestaurants and F&B concepts that showcase local cuisine,as well as ensure that meeting spaces are loaded withcutting-edge technology and guest rooms are remodeled to ahigher standard.In addition, "We are taking service at Radisson to a wholenew dimension," according to Kirschke. "No one will get afree ride. Everyone from management right on down will haveto take part in the new training model."While Radisson's North American hotels and resorts --including the 301-room Radisson Plaza–Warwick HotelPhiladelphia and the 303-room Radisson Hotel at Opryland inNashville -- are enjoying multimillion-dollar transformations,Carlson will move ahead with plans to introduce U.S.planners to its upper-upscale Radisson Blu brand, whichalready encompasses a global portfolio of more than 200properties, primarily in Europe. First up will be the flagship334-room Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago, which debutsthis fall with approximately 27,000 square feet of meetingspace. In Minneapolis, the 501-room Radisson Blu at Mall ofAmerica will feature 23,000 square feet of meeting space andwill be connected to the mall upon opening in 2012.With respect to meetingsupport, researchersenvisionvideoconferencing andvirtual and hybrid events

Meetings & Conventions of 8 5/4/2011 1:50 PMto be in widespread useby 2015.By Michael J. Shapiro

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