BTN 2009 U.S. Hotel Chain Survey: Wyndham Tops New Upscale/Select Service Tier
Kevin Rupert, Wyndham's vice president of marketing and strategy, said the brand has undergone a good deal of renovation—new bedding packages, new bathroom amenities, in-room MP3 players, new coffee makers—since what was then Cendant Corp. acquired the brand that would ultimately become its flagship as its hospitality business was spun off into its own entity.
"We've always been well-positioned," Rupert said. "We've improved the product quality, added points to our rewards program and included free high-speed Internet for our loyalty members."
High scores for meetings facilities could be attributed to a recent brandwide initiative for allergy-friendly meeting spaces and guest rooms that has helped the brand secure a large piece of business in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a focus on such equipment as ergonomic chairs, Rupert said.
"We've also been rolling out a new meetings program, helping create events that are more interesting and more stimulating for attendees," Rupert said.
Despite missing the top slot, Hilton Garden Inn, the top midprice brand in last year's survey, had the distinction of having the highest score in the largest number of categories for the upscale/select-service tier.
Buyers rated the 13-year-old brand tops for its corporate rate programs, staff, business center, in-room business amenities and overall price/value relationship.
Tom Botts, a partner with strategic advisory firm Hudson Crossing, said the brand's properties generally are newer builds of high quality, combined with rates that work well in tough economic times. "Its rooms are consistently nice, and there's free breakfast and free Internet, which are big wins," Botts said.
Even in tough economic times, Hilton Garden Inn wants to continue to invest in its service offerings, said Hilton Garden Inn senior vice president of brand management for Adrian Kurre. "We've reduced owners' fees so they can stay focused on their customers."
Hilton Garden Inn also benefits from its quickly growing footprint, with 79 hotels opened in 2008, Kurre said. "There isn't a major market anywhere in which we don't have some sort of representation, so it's just a matter of filling in those markets where the business has moved to," he said.
Two other Hilton brands, Doubletree and Embassy Suites, placed third and fourth in the tier, respectively. Each considerably improved its score and ranking compared with 2008, when Doubletree ranked 16th and Embassy Suites ranked 15th.
Doubletree particularly scored well on the meetings side, earning top scores in the tier for arranging group travel and facilities for resort meetings. Embassy Suites, meanwhile, benefited from a number of upgrades to its physical product—breakfasts, fitness centers and checkin kiosks, for example—said Jim Holthouser, global head of full service hotels for Hilton.
"We've had a huge percentage of the brand returned to like new, and we've also launched a new prototype," Holthouser said. "Now we have the biggest pipeline that we've ever had as a brand."
Starwood Hotels & Resorts' Four Points by Sheraton brand took fifth place, scoring highest in the tier for its commission payment system.
The rapidly growing Hyatt Place brand, launched just a few years ago and now at 130 hotels, generated enough usage among travel buyers this year to be included on the survey for the first time, and it demonstrated a strong performance in several categories.
Buyers ranked the brand highest for its food, the physical appearance of the properties and its in-room amenities.
Alison Kal, vice president of marketing for Hyatt, said the food category in particular has been a focus, and the brand also added touch-screen menus for ordering in guest kitchens, she said.
"This was the most researched brand in the history of Hyatt," according to Kal. The brand continues to grow, with more than 20 planned for this year.
Bjorn Hanson, an associate professor at New York University's Tisch Center, said the tier would be one of the industry's highest performers. With other tiers expected to see demand hemorrhage as much as 5 percent to 6 percent this year, the upscale tier seems poised to drop by only 1 percent or so in terms of demand.
"It's very much a value story," Hanson said. "There's no charge for high-speed Internet access and no charge for the fitness center, so it's one of the two tiers that are going to fare the best."