Interview with Jonathan Mills, CEO of Choice Hotels for EMEA. Previous to that, he was in Asia-Pacific for 15 years. "I was very excited about the challenge and wanted to come back and assist the organisation and build the strategy."

How do you convince owners to invest in refurbishing their properties? 

The franchisee is looking for a model that they can implement their hospitality, so very much have customisation within a framework. They want the tools, the brand, the support, the delivery, but they also have a vision as to how they want to deliver their hospitality. So, by doing all of that assessment, we are able then to demonstrate to the franchisee, implementing our hallmarks which are very specific to customer experiential and are also revenue driving. Because we work very closely with all our franchisees and took a fact-based approach then franchisees are very engaged in implementing the new refresh of our brands. 

How does Choice plan to keep ahead as a franchisor? 

In order for us to be strong in market, it’s about being relevant. I think what was important during the pandemic was the activities that the organisation undertook. It did an independent study, spoke to customers, spoke to franchisees and spoke to all sorts of different audiences as to what they were looking for. Not only from a franchise business model, but its brands and also what the consumer was looking for in a hotel stay post-pandemic. As a result of that, we have adapted our value proposition within EMEA as a business, we have adapted and refreshed our brands. So, we are now undertaking an execution of our refreshed brands into the market, and what we have also done is refreshed our hallmarks for the consumer. 

Do you plan on developing a training course? 

The focus on training is absolutely pivotal to supporting the customer experience. We have designed customer experiential training for all of the brands, and what we are then doing is ‘train-the-trainer’ programmes and going on property, where required, to train staff as well. That training is focused on the positioning and the hallmarks of the brands, the services that Choice offers to franchisees and the customer service linked to the hallmarks of the fresh brand. Training is the vein that goes through the hotel that really ensures we get that brand absolutely resonating in the service culture. 

What role does CSR play for Choice Hotels and their franchisees? 

We are taking those tools and services, we are culturalising and adapting them to our different markets across the region. We then execute that as part of our brand execution. Alongside CSR, the localisation focus that we have got in our hotels means that we want to ensure we are supporting local businesses. Whether that is by purchasing products or by encouraging customers to go eat in restaurants, go visit museums and thus supporting local businesses. But also, attracting local things of interest into the hotel, so whether that be an item, a food product, a singer or something that influences the design of the hotel. The support of local is important as well. 

What brands did you focus on? 

We launched our refreshed Comfort brand in January, and then two weeks ago we launched our Clarion brand. Within a very short space of time, we will then have ambassador hotels, of those brands, where customers can stay and experience it. And over the next eighteen months those brands then will all be on-brand to the brand-refresh standard. Later this year in September, we will be launching our Quality brand, and then at the end of September we are launching a brand-new brand called Sleep. We are very excited about it, it has been developed because of the research that we had from the consumer. Then, towards January of next year, we will be refreshing and relaunching our Ascend collection brand. So, that will give us our brand stable of five brands for EMEA. 

What is the signature of the brand ‘Sleep’? 

The customers wanted a branded experience. They wanted to be energised in the daytime, they wanted a brand that was inspired by nature, they wanted a focus on health and mindfulness. But then equally when it comes to bedtime, they wanted a really good sleep experience, that therefore in the morning they are energised and ready to go. It is a blend of energise and rest, so that is the philosophy. I think one of the key factors with the brand as well is balance. Through the pandemic, people have worked from home, they have had that home-work balance and people want to take that forward into the new world and into their hotel stay. 

Are you ready for the conquest? 

We absolutely are. It has been an incredible two years, the company has really taken the time to speak to customers and franchisees, and to invest in the future. We are very clear on the strategy, and we are very clear on our growth markets being France, the UK and Germany. We are very clear on refreshing our brands, ensuring we have got the right team with the right skillset, the right value proposition for not only the franchisees, but also the customer. We are very excited about our positioning; about all the executional components we are bringing to market with brand and value proposition. We are also really excited about bringing new hotels in, on-brand, and then customers staying with us and telling us all about it. It is a really exciting time for Choice Hotels in this region. 

Any final words? 

The hospitality industry is very important, not only for the economy or the countries we operate in. I think what is important for us is that we attract and retain and develop our people, that we ensure that our brands and our value proposition are inspiring for franchisees, and also for customers. The hospitality industry has got a really exciting, strong future. I think that is just as important in the business because we have got a responsibility for our children and people who want to come into this industry to make sure that it is sustainable and that it does have a strong future. I just want to thank you for the opportunity of meeting you, and you inviting me to have this conversation with you. And most importantly for me to be able to share the Choice story with you and your audience. Thank you very much indeed.  

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