BREAKTHROUGH MEANS DIFFERENT things to different people.
At the start of Wyndham Hotel Group’s Global Conference on April 10, President and CEO Geoff Ballotti promised more than 6,000 attendees this is a “breakthrough year” for the hotel company, mirroring the 2018 convention’s theme.
For franchisees of AmericInn, which joined Wyndham Hotel Group in October, it may translate into more business since its distribution and customer loyalty programs have been grafted onto Wyndham’s global system less than six months after Wyndham acquired the brand.
For owners of Baymont Hotels & Suites, it means seeing all properties go 100 percent smoke free – a new brand standard that had been left to the choice of guests and owners but will now expand to all Baymont hotels over the next 12 months.
For Wingate owners and developers, a new level of business may be found through the brand’s new prototype, which reduces a property’s “non-revenue-generating” space by 30 percent and cuts $250,000 from the FF&E.
For owners of 12 Wyndham brands, it means having the identifier “by Wyndham” added to the brand names, which the company hopes will increase consumer awareness about Wyndham Hotel Group’s brand family and its loyalty program, Wyndham Rewards.
During his opening presentation, Ballotti cited two other breakthroughs – the company’s plans to spin off from its parent, Wyndham Worldwide, into its own publicly traded corporation and its agreement to acquire La Quinta Inns & Suites for nearly $2 billion.
Although Wyndham Hotel Group last week inked an agreement to sell its Knights Inn brand to Red Lion Hotels Corp. for $27 million, Ballotti and other leaders said the company will continue to grow through acquisitions of quality brands.
Growth also will come from conversions and new construction. Chip Ohlsson, chief development officer, said Wyndham Hotel Group opened 5,000 hotels or 62,700 rooms in 2017, an increase of 18 percent. On average, the company opens two hotels a day. Its new-construction pipeline is up 30 percent over the past five years.
“Size matters because it means more choices for guests and more distribution for our hotels,” Ballotti said.
Today, Wyndham Hotel Group has 8,400 hotels, making it the largest hotel company in the world. With the La Quinta deal the company will have 9,100 properties. The Knights Inn sale, expected to close this quarter, will reduce that number by about 360. The La Quinta deal also is expected to close in the second quarter, around the same time Wyndham Worldwide splits into two companies and Wyndham Hotel Group becomes a pure-play entity with the NYSE ticker symbol WH.
For owners of Wyndham Hotel Group’s legacy-branded hotels, breakthrough may mean getting their hotels’ appearances and customer service up to snuff or risk losing the license.
In the ensuing months, Wyndham Hotel Group may see its size shrink a little more as it cleans house of franchised properties that no longer meet their brands’ quality standards in design and customer service. “Quality has never mattered more,” Ballotti said.
The company is working with its legacy-branded hotels to increase quality and increase business. It doesn’t always work out well. Over the past three years, Wyndham has ended contracts totaling 80,000 rooms.
In a news conference, Ballotti said the world has grown more transparent, and quality is visible. “It’s made quality assurance a little bit easier,” he said.
He cites as a good example AmericInn, where 88 percent of its 200 hotels score 4 points or higher on TripAdvisor. “It’s where we’d like to get everyone of our brands, and consistently out-rank our competitive sets,” he said.
La Quinta Inns & Suites hotels, for the most part, have high-ranking quality scores, he noted.
In most cases, it is the brand advisory councils, about 60 owners in total, who have encouraged the company to tackle the issue of substandard properties.
For example, the company has launched a new Clean & Bright campaign for its Days Inn hotels. The program was launched after a nine-month pilot program during which 12 hotels in the U.S. and the U.K. concentrated on the little things such as exterior accent lighting, lobby scents, new housekeeping uniforms and custom music playlists. Guests have responded positively to the enhancements, said Wyndham.
The campaign also will focus on improving customer service. Making Every Day Brighter is the new initiative grounded in the concept that hotel employees have the ability to brighten someone’s day during routine, everyday interactions. How that’s done is up to each hotel’s owner or operator. This fall, Wyndham will launch a pilot program in which select hotels will implement their own “bright ideas,” the company said. It gave examples: The selfie station at the Days Inn in Colchester, Vermont, and resident pirates and mermaids at the Days Inn in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Overseeing this initiative as well as other quality-improvement campaigns and programs are the brands’ directors of franchise operations. “DFOs are where the rubber meets the road,” Ballotti said. They work one-on-one with owners to improve guest service, back-of-the-house operations, FF&E and infrastructure issues that impact guest satisfaction.
The company will expand its DFO team by 20 percent this year, giving DFOs fewer properties to work with and thereby giving them sufficient time and support to help owners improve their businesses.