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The Philosophy of the Extended Stay Hotel -
Make the Guest Feel at "Home"
By Jimmy Vielkind, Albany Times Union, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Apr. 20, 2008 --Pamela Moore is from Colorado, but for the next eight months she's calling the Capital Region home.

Moore is a certified safety professional at an environmental consulting firm. She began a major project at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna and is supervising 25 people, who will come in fits and starts over the coming months.

But the project time frame creates something of an awkward housing need. It's too short to lease a house or apartment, but sufficiently long that staying in a hotel would eventually seem stale. So Moore is staying, like many business people on long-term assignments, at a residential hotel: the Residence Inn on Route 7 in Colonie.

"You know you've been in a hotel too long when the manager sends you a Christmas card," Moore said, lifting her second cup of Coors Light to her lips before she left for an early evening dinner.

The card and the Coors embody the philosophy of the hotels, sometimes called "extended stay hotels": Make the guests feel at home, whether it's free refreshments and discounted beer at a thrice weekly happy hour or holiday greetings.

Residence Inn pioneered the extended-stay hotel, opening the first one in Wichita, Kan., in 1975. Under the guidance of founder Jack DeBoer, the franchise built about 100 hotels around the country before it was sold to the Marriott company in 1987. Now, most other major hotel chains have a brand specializing in extended-stay visits.

The differences

The typical suite looks like an apartment, with a kitchen and separate sleeping and living areas. The major difference from an apartment is that there is not a long-term lease agreement, and housekeepers come daily.

Price is another significant difference. A suite at the Residence Inn costs $189 to $219 a night, which translates to about $6,000 a month, while a one-bedroom apartment in the Capital Region runs well under $1,000 a month.

But leading a tour of the Residence Inn, general manager Betsy Baker explains that there are far more things setting the establishment apart from traditional hotels -- or apartments.

"People like to have doors that close -- they like the separation," Baker said, walking through a two-bedroom suite. The carpet is plush and green. Five pillows instead of two crown the queen-sized bed. There's a table, and a larger desk than in most hotels. A sofa and coffee table sit in front of the television. Heat, water, local phone calls, cable TV and Internet are all included. Laundry, dry cleaning and grocery services are available at an extra cost.

Outside, there are tennis courts and a basketball hoop. There's always a parking space available, and the main building contains gym facilities, and a continental breakfast is served daily.

And each room contains a kitchen, stocked with basic utensils and "everything you need to cook but the food," Baker said.

That was a major selling point for Moore, who said while she has enjoyed exploring the local restaurant scene, she enjoys the freedom to be able to whip up a pot of her homemade chicken soup. "I like my coffee pot," she added.

The fact that her cat, Cleo, is able to stay with her clinched the deal.

Business and more

At one of the happy hours, where cheap beer, free chips and guacamole and other snacks abounded, Moore sat with three co-workers. Their stays will be shorter. Most of the people in the room were in the region for business. Some were staying days, some were staying months.

Baker said traveling workers make up a large chunk of the clientele, but that the facility also houses families waiting to move into new houses or, in some instances, have recently been burned out of their residences by fire.

"No two days are the same," Baker said. "People end up here for all kinds of reasons. Our goal is just to make them as happy and comfortable as possible, and we go out of our way to have fun. Our little mantra is to provide service so memorable that our guests tell stories about it."

While the Residence Inn is the Capital Region's oldest extended-stay hotel, it is not the only one. Others include the Homewood Suites on Wolf Road, the Crest Hill Suites on Washington Avenue Extension and TownPlace Suites across Washington Avenue from the University at Albany.

Moore remains a fan. She says she would never dream of staying in a regular hotel for more than a night or two. And she offered one suggestion for improving the Residence Inn: Get better weather.

Jimmy Vielkind can be reached at 454-5043 or by e-mail at jvielkind@timesunion.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Albany Times Union, N.Y.

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