|By Randy Diamond, Tampa Tribune, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
July 13, 2004 - TAMPA, Fla. -- You can find most major hotel chains in Tampa's West Shore business district, but one name you won't be able to find soon will be Crowne Plaza.
The owners of the 272-room Crowne Plaza Tampa hotel on West Shore Boulevard have decided to drop their chain affiliation and operate under a new name, The Quorum Hotel.
On Sept. 1, the hotel's franchise agreement expires with Intercontinental Hotel Group, owners of the Crowne Plaza chain.
Mark Shire, Crowne Plaza Tampa marketing director, said the hotel decided to let its franchise agreement expire because the Crowne Plaza name was hindering its ability to charge rates comparable to competitors such as Marriott and Hilton. The hotel's average daily rate is $88, about $9 less than other West Shore area hotels, according Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotel rates.
The name the hotel plans to operate under, The Quorum Hotel, is not exactly a household brand. But officials of Dallas-based Quorum Hotels think there is a strong market in Tampa for an upscale, independent boutique hotel.
Jean Hungerford, vice-president of marketing for Quorum Hotels, said, "As an independent property, we have the opportunity to give a more individual experience."
As part of its switch from Crowne to Quorum, the hotel on Monday began a $5 million renovation, which will include adding an Old Florida decorating theme. When the work is finished this year, the lobby and rooms will all have been redecorated. The hotel also plans calypso music and neck massages during a daily lobby cocktail party, Shire said.
The hotel's management hopes the renovation and new name helps boost its room rates, and ultimately revenue.
Shire said management hopes that offering a boutique hotel experience to customers will increase occupancy, which averages 70 percent on a 12-month basis.
Sean Hennessey, president of Lodging Investment Advisors, a New York City-based hotel consulting firm, said even if the Crowne Plaza Tampa boosts room rates by $9 a booking, the added revenue could be significant.
Hennessey said he estimates Crowne Plaza Tampa brings in $8 million annually in revenue. He said the hotel's decision to become an independent mirrors a trend across the United States driven by customers wanting something other than a chain hotel experience.
Although boutique hotels were once confined to large cities such as New York and San Francisco, hotel operators are looking at smaller markets such as Tampa to open up shop, he said.
Hennessey said independent hotels can save money by contracting with companies that provide reservation centers and other hotel services.
Hungerford says technology has made it much easier for hotels to go independent.
She said industry studies show that at least 50 percent of travelers shop for hotels online. Once it becomes The Quorum Hotel, the hotel plans to compete with chains via its own Web site and travel Web sites such as Expedia and Orbitz.
"Technology has evened the playing field," she said.
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