|By David Flaum, The Commercial Appeal,
Memphis, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 17, 2007 - It took 18 years for Memphis-based Homewood Suites to open its 200th hotel just last month.
In only two more years, the number should grow by half as Homewood rides the crest of upscale extended stay (five days or more) hotel popularity and looks beyond U. S. borders.
"The segment itself is very strong," said Rebecca Wyatt, senior vice president of brand management for Homewood, owned by Hilton Hotels Corp.
Wyatt scanned a map that showed 125 Homewoods she expected to be open in the next two years -- 41 under construction, 84 in design.
"We are incredibly consistent. Our hotels are well-built, and we focus on quality and comfort," she said. "We try to find a balance between what is modern and appealing and what is comfortable. We want people to walk in and say, 'I want to put my feet up.' "
While that's admittedly an insider's view, Memphis hotel consultant Chuck Pinkowski agrees with it.
"They're very high quality and they're in a great family with Hilton," he said. "They know what they are, who they are and how to sell it."
Homewood also gets high marks from Consumer Reports, Zagat Survey and Market Metrix Hospitality Index.
The former Promus Cos. -- successor to Holiday Inns and Holiday Corp. -- rolled out the brand in 1989.
Before that, Pinkowski said, hotel companies didn't pay special attention to people, mostly business folks, coming in for long-term stays -- they put them in regular rooms. Or their companies rented apartments for them, he said.
Timing figured in, too.
"It started just when the economy hit a difficult period," Wyatt said. "It didn't take off until the Promus-Hilton merger and it was rebranded with the Hilton name."
After some ups and downs, the economy -- and hotel business -- has bounced back from the downturn after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And suites are hot.
"The extended stay market is growing a lot faster than the total hotel market," Pinkowkski said.
Much of that is because of the homelike feel of the suites, especially those in the upscale end of the segment like Homewood, he said.
Chain leaders have done other things to try to boost the performance of the brand.
They've gotten out of the real estate business. Homewood just sold its last company-owned hotel, putting all 201 hotels in the hands of franchisees.
"Their mission is to be in the development, franchising and management business, and that's what they're good at," Pinkowski said.
Those hotels cost $7 million to $9 million each to develop, said Jeffrey Good, president of Good Hospitality Services Inc. of Valparaiso, Ind., which owns four Homewoods.
His firm owns 12 Hampton Inns -- also a Hilton brand -- and was looking for another type of hotel with a market less saturated than the limited- service Hampton segment, Good said.
"No. 1 was the connection to Hilton," he said of the decision to own Homewoods. The chain has a strong customer reward program.
Plus, the hotel design -- 82 rooms in three of the Good hotels -- allows Homewoods in markets that won't support the typical 115-room format, Good said.
Wyatt believes Homewood is responsive to owners like Good; it has an owners advisory council, of which Good is a member, and a hotel performance support director and revenue manager for every 25 hotels.
Although most of its emphasis has been on business parks in suburban areas and other places outside central cities, Homewood has come up with designs for downtowns -- including Indianapolis, where Good renovated an old warehouse. That's part of the chain's growth strategy.
"At some point in the United States, we'll reach a point where it will be more and more difficult to find good sites," Wyatt said.
That point probably would be around 500 hotels.
Meanwhile, Homewood is going international, starting in Canada, Mexico and India.
In each country, the chain is starting with five properties -- the "critical mass" needed provide the support, service and marketing needed for the hotels to thrive, Wyatt said.
That's just for starters.
"If we find a partner and see a market, we'll consider others (countries)," she said.
HOMEWOOD SUITES BY HILTON
Headquarters: 755 Crossover Lane
Top person: Rebecca Wyatt, senior vice president of brand management
Employees: 6,100, including 45 in Memphis
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
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