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La Quinta’s  New Logo Crucial to the Texas Based Hotel Chain’s Plan
 to Become a Bigger Player in the North American Hotel Industry

By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 20, 2007 - La Quinta is betting on a sunburst.

The Irving-based hotel chain's new logo is crucial to its plan to become a bigger player in the North American hotel industry. The sunny symbol is replacing the chain's Southwestern motif as the company works to broaden its appeal outside the Sun Belt.

It's a dramatic shift for a hotel chain whose logos and architecture reflected its San Antonio beginnings. La Quinta's last advertising campaign even riffed on its Spanish-sounding name.

Now LQ Management LLC, which operates the privately held company, is using the logo, an updated look for its hotels and a new ad campaign to bolster its case for expansion.

"We want to be wherever the consumer wants to stay," said Julie Cary, who joined La Quinta as its chief marketing officer last year.

La Quinta plans to nearly double its network of 586 hotels by 2011, focusing on Canada, the Northeast, Florida, California, the Northwest and the mid-Atlantic. Later this year, it will open its first property in Mexico.

To do that, it plans to add 90 properties this year. Last year, it added 85. The company has operations in 45 states, mostly in the South and Southeast.

The company has spent the last six years trying to change that.

Twice the size

La Quinta has nearly doubled in size since it launched a franchising program in 2001. Franchisers own about 40 percent of La Quinta locations, a figure that's expected to rise to 75 percent by 2011.

It has already created a stronger foothold in the Midwest -- in 2004, it bought 185 hotels under the Baymont Inns & Suites, Woodfield Suites and Budgetel brands. It converted 65 of the properties and then sold the Baymont brand and franchise system to focus on its La Quinta brand.

A year ago, La Quinta was bought out by private equity firm the Blackstone Group, whose affiliates also own Extended Stay America and LXR Luxury Resorts & Hotels.

Blackstone has helped fund La Quinta's expansion, which comes at a time when demand is strong for hotels in the limited-service category, which means they don't have a full-service restaurant on site.

Revenue per available room in La Quinta's hotel segment grew 9.3 percent in 2006, second only to the luxury market, according to Smith Travel Research.

Al Calhoun, a managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, said La Quinta is big enough for consumers to recognize the name but small enough to claim an advantage in attracting franchise partners.

"They have available markets to go into," Mr. Calhoun said. "Most of the other brands are already out there."

And investors are plenty. A recent survey by Jones Lang LaSalle showed that 41 percent of U.S. investors in limited-service properties such as La Quinta planned to buy more hotels in the first part of 2007. Furthermore, there are four buyers for every seller, reflecting strong confidence in the market.

Room revenues still haven't recovered to the record highs of 2000, but investor sentiment is positive during the short and long term, the survey said.

Stronger logo

Greg Crown, a hotel industry analyst for PKF Consulting's Dallas office, says the new motif is critical to La Quinta's expansion outside of the Southwest.

He pointed out that the company's competitors, such as Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn, aren't associated with any particular region.

La Quinta is "at home in Texas but not necessarily in Boston," Mr. Crown said.

It also needs a strong logo as the company adds franchise properties that may not look like the company prototype, said Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing and brand management for Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

"It becomes more important to link properties by brand because you can deliver that more consistently," Mr. Dev said.

La Quinta is also reaching out to new customers. It performs well with frequent guests but has a harder time attracting new ones.

"Consumers buy brands. They don't necessarily buy amenities," said Ms. Cary, who previously worked on marketing campaigns for Hostess snack products, Energizer batteries and Gerber Baby Foods. She also worked for Dallas-based Dean Foods Co.

Unified network

The new logo helps unify La Quinta's network, which had one logo for La Quinta Inns and another for La Quinta Inns & Suites.

The company has already started installing signs on its hotels and launched a series of ads that make light of stressful travel situations.

Mullen, an agency in Winston-Salem, N.C., that's a division of the giant agency Interpublic Group, created the campaign that suggests looking at the bright side: You get $5 for meals on your expense account, but you drop two sizes. You lose the company's biggest sales account, but your boss finally learns your name.

"Travel stress is at an all-time high," Ms. Cary said. "We wanted to be the bright spot at the end of the traveler's tunnel."

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Dallas Morning News

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