MONTREAL — It was a whirlwind year of expansion for Choice Hotels Canada, whose executive team showed off a steady pipeline, rejuvenated corporate identity and a focus on driving loyalty during the company’s annual conference in Montreal last week.
“Our brand promise ‘Choice Hotels makes it customers feel welcome, wanted and respected by going above and beyond to treat them well,’ is what we’re about at our core,” said Brian Leon, managing director, at the company’s conference at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal.
“There’s lots of great things happening at Choice Hotels Canada. We’re in the midst of six consecutive years of positive RevPAR growth.” In addition to 17 properties opened this year, the team plans to add six units to finish the year with 321 hotels in operation and close to 26,000 rooms. “With [these] new entries, it’s a record-breaking year for us. But more important is the quality of assets we have joining our system,” he said. In the past five years, Choice has added more than 80 properties in Canada; it also doubled its Ascend Hotel Collection in the past 18 months.
In addition, many franchisees are investing in rejuvenating their properties, investing $40-million towards property renovations in the past year. And long-standing brands are getting an overhaul, including the Quality brand, whose new prototype (a Canadian-led initiative) is entering the final stages of development. Leon says the prototype will offer leading-edge design and will be value-engineered to optimize capital costs and ROI.
But the year has not been without its challenges, particularly in the west. “Two things have been frustrating to our franchisees out west: first, the difficulties in getting reasonable labour, and the expense of labour; the second is it’s really expensive to develop and renovate properties in Western Canada because your cost to get labour and trades is so expensive,” he said.
As the team looks towards 2016, there will be a focus on driving loyalty, particularly as the Choice Privileges membership continues to swell with 170,000 new members this year. Now the program is being positioned to capture more corporate and mid-week business, and will help incite that business with new flex rewards and marketing partnerships — including Ticketmaster and the Canadian Hockey League.
But the team must keep its eye on loyalty innovations, a theme emphasized by Steve Allmen, co-founder of Loyalty and Co. “Hotel loyalty is an extremely crowded marketplace,” he said, explaining how technology is disrupting the loyalty industry in Canada by replacing plastic cards with virtual programs. Smartphones are leading the charge, and hoteliers must adapt to new ways of reaching clients beyond the point-of-purchase, such as targeting new customers by pushing offers straight to their smartphones.
Several awards were presented during the conference, beginning with development awards. Winners included the Econo Lodge in Taber, Alta. (Best New Entry, Economy); Quality Inn, Moncton (Best New Entry, Conversion, Mid-market); Comfort Inn & Suites Calgary (New Build, Mid-market); and The Saint James Hotel (New Entry, Ascend). CCR Investments Ltd. was named developer of the year.
Meanwhile, at a gala hosted at the Montreal Science Centre, the Choice Hotels Canada team fêted several stand-out properties, which included:
• Highest Likelihood-to-recommend (LTR): Quality Inn & Suites, Val d’Or, Que.
• Most Improved LTR: Comfort Inn, Burlington, Ont.
• Most Improved Room Condition: Comfort Inn, Burlington, Ont.
• Greatest RevPAR Growth: Comfort Inn, Fort Erie, Ont.
• Best New Entry: Les Suites Victoria, an Ascend Hotel Collection, Gatineau, Que.
• Rookie of the Year: Comfort Inn & Suites, Campbell River, B.C.
• Highest Choice Privileges Elite Recognition: Comfort Hotel Bayer’s Lake, Halifax
• Highest Choice Privileges Conversion Rate: Comfort Inn, Newmarket, Ont.