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Hotel groups enter the race

With the market changing and the arrival of innovative players, hotel groups are refurbishing. Their strategies most often follow two parallel routes simultaneously: repositioning of well-established midscale brands and the launch of new brands that are better adapted to the new expectations of generation X. Conviviality, freedom, modernity: the new midscale hotel business will be resolutely lifestyles-oriented.

Pioneers receive the honors: one of the oldest hotel brands is preparing to receive a serious facelift. The InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) announced last October that it would relaunch the Holiday Inn brand worldwide. Owners and franchisees will jointly invest a billion dollars over 3 years in order to update the entire supply. The first “new look” hotels will show their faces in 2008 with all new signage and a younger logo, and the implementation of an approach to service called “Stay real”, based on individual recognition of each guest. This immense effort to update should be complete in 2010. Central to improving the level of quality is the careful attention that the room and bathroom will receive. The concept was redefined to combine freshness, cleanliness, relaxation and comfort...Another example of a conquest of a region where the midscale is still not very developed is the Middle East. Upscale is the standard there. An expert of the market it hails from, the Rotana group launched Centro in 2005. This concept with its contemporary architecture favors indoor space and borrows from the major current trends in terms of services and technological equipment. It is essentially for business and leisure travelers looking for a stylish hotel at an affordable price in an area of the world where this type of property is still rare. The development plan forecasts 25 properties in the Middle East in five years. The art of striking the iron while it’s hot...Why is the British group making so much effort to give its historic brand a new burst of energy? Clearly because competition is increasingly tough on the midscale segment. And lagging behind with an aging product could prove dangerous when design is spreading throughout the hotel industry and new technologies are transforming clients’ habits. Result: well-known brands owe themselves a rejuvenation treatment.It is all the easier for groups to reinvent their favorite brands when they have a solid background. Created in the beginning of the 80s, Courtyard by Marriott adapted itself to the new demands of business clientele. After three years conducting research on European clientele, the American group revived Courtyard, using contemporary design to make the room an a “oasis for the itinerant traveler”, a place where the guest may refresh and recharge himself, but where he may also remain connected to the outside world. Finally, the lobby, a major topic of the times, is considered a multifunctional space where guests may work, talk or relax freely at different times of the day. Accor also revised the concept of the brand Novotel which just celebrated its 40th birthday. The new, very natural positioning, illustrated by the Design for Natural Living campaign, banks on wellbeing by rethinking the room and lobby spaces. The target: 25-45 years, the famous Generation X that is gradually imposing its choices and fashion on the entire hotel industry. After its midscale brand, the French group will concentrate on Le Mercure, its other midscale brand, which should benefit from a new strategy announced over the course of the year, symbolized by the creation of Mercure Gallery.Another solution adopted by the groups: create a sub-brand of a well-known label. Launched four years ago in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, the midscale concept of Ramada Encore by the Wyndham group is booming today. Twenty or so of these “boutique” hotels by Ramada will open in the United Kingdom. The group has also announced the signature of 15 hotels in the Ukraine’s secondary cities. In addition to Central Europe, Ramada Encore has promise for a good future in China. “For the investor, it is an excellent concept in the “limited service” category that offers the guest the feeling of being in a higher category hotel thanks to the quality of fitments,” HTR recently learned from Olivier Dupont, VP development EMEA and Asia-Pacific for Wyndham.With respect to developers, these brands are meeting with success. The rapid development of the brand Park Inn in Europe attests to this. Owned by Carlson, it has been developed in Europe by the brand’s partner Rezidor. It is, in fact, perfectly adapted to secondary cities, and, in certain cases, to the centers of major metropolises. In the same spirit, Hilton Hotels doesn’t plan on leaving the field open for its competitors. Thanks to the recent fusion of the group’s two branches, the strategy is being put into action through the diffusion of North American brands worldwide and the development of the Hilton Garden Inn, in particular, throughout Europe.The second solution for keeping up with the evolution of the market: create a brand ex nihilo. Starting in 2004, IHG had adopted the “lifestyle” approach with the opening of its first boutique hotel the Hotel Indigo. This urban and design brand targets the conversion of existing buildings in city centers near business and leisure centers. While until now Indigo has experienced moderate development, the opening of the first New York property in Chelsea should speed things up for this brand that is currently limited to the North American continent. 50 properties are in the pipeline.Like InterContinental, other groups have put their R&D departments to work brainstorming. Their goal: add the missing link to brand portfolios in order to conquer a younger clientele and meet the needs of the itinerant traveler. Choice, Hyatt and Starwood have simultaneously launched the elaboration of new brands with “select service” positioning, an offer that is growing fast. Contemporary design, take away catering, larges lobbies that become living spaces, spacious rooms connected to the world: the concepts of Cambria Suites, Hyatt Place and Aloft have many points in common. Launched in 2005, these concepts are being revealed today.With its Cambria Suites, Choice is preparing to renew its offer in secondary and tertiary cities – Boise in Idaho, Green Bay in Wisconsin. Its priority target: business clientele. To seduce them, the hotel’s inventory consists only of suites that include a separate workspace, embellished with an ergonomic armchair. Equipped with microwaves and refrigerators, the rooms leave guests free to heat up meals purchased at the 24- hour mini-market.The first Aloft hotels by Starwood are also committed to allowing guests to manage their stays. This freedom is expressed by the latest technological innovations such as check in/out kiosks and the restaurant concept called “refuel”, open 24 hours a day. Aloft hotels, which play on the DNA of the trendy W hotels, also play on emotions by using a sensorial program that associates light, music and sound. In this way they target a clientele that reaches beyond businessmen. It is interesting to observe that the first version of the Aloft concept was offered to virtual travelers on the “real life” website where they could express recommendations in order to make the product evolve. Specific programs have been implemented to accommodate children and animals. Starwood aims high with Aloft: 500 properties are planned in the five years to come. The first hotels are opening mostly in secondary American cities. The world’s great cities also welcome Aloft hotels. Beijing, Brussels and Bangkok are already scheduled for 2009.This new brand could rapidly catch up to the Hyatt group’s lastborn. A contemporary conversion of the interior design of the Amerisuites chain, Hyatt Place is ahead in terms of development. In less than two years, the brand has surpassed 100 properties. The 200 mark is coming into sight since the Chicago group announced 86 new projects. Furnished with the Hyatt Grand Bed, an ergonomic desk, free Wi-Fi, the rooms have all the business traveler needs for a restful and productive stay. He is received in the Gallery by his “host” who facilitates check-in and shows him the hotel’s facilities. The Gallery is also a place for socializing and working, with a wine bar-coffee shop, an Internet terminal and Wi-Fi. Relaxation has its place in the Cozy Corner, a space especially designed for watching football and basketball games. With an upscale leaning, the “select service” brand Hyatt Place was created with overwhelmed businessmen in mind. But the example doesn’t just come from above. Alongside these “big players” are more modest major players that are seizing opportunities as they arise on a segment that is in full mutation. Urban centers in Eastern Europe are not yet overcrowded by contemporary style hotels.This is why the Austrian group Vienna International is putting a great deal into its brand Andels. The prototype opened in 2002 in Prague. It was designed by the architecture studio Jestico & Whiles to seduce leisure as well as business clientele in search of a resolutely contemporary product, with many technological innovations that facilitate the daily life of the traveler in the room, yet connected to the outside world. The brand is currently expanding eastward to Krakow, Lodz and Berlin after the commercial success of the hotel in Prague.Another example of a conquest of a region where the midscale is still not very developed is the Middle East. Upscale is the standard there. An expert of the market it hails from, the Rotana group launched Centro in 2005. This concept with its contemporary architecture favors indoor space and borrows from the major current trends in terms of services and technological equipment. It is essentially for business and leisure travelers looking for a stylish hotel at an affordable price in an area of the world where this type of property is still rare. The development plan forecasts 25 properties in the Middle East in five years. The art of striking the iron while it’s hot...

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