|By Mike Pramik, The Columbus Dispatch,
OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 26, 2009 --What it lacks in name recognition, it promises to make up for in amenities. That's the pledge of Cambria Suites, which opened a hotel in the Polaris area last week.
Cambria Suites, a new Choice Hotels Inc. brand, falls into the fast-growing category of "focused service." It promises business travelers and weekend leisure guests a lot of bang for the buck.
For example, the expansive lobby includes a bar, an office work-space zone and several comfortable seating areas, one with a big-screen television. The spaces are designed to encourage guests to mingle or relax outside their rooms, said Phil Beilke, senior director of brand management for Cambria Suites.
"We want to allow our guests to maintain their lifestyles on the road," he said. "We're in one of the hottest segments in the lodging industry. There's a lot of aging product, and they haven't kept current with the needs of travelers."
The lobby also includes a laptop bar. It's a four-person seating area next to the full bar where patrons can surf the Web or conduct business while sipping on a cocktail.
Down the hall is an indoor pool and a 1,500-square-foot fitness room with about a dozen fitness machines as well as free weights, medicine balls and fitness balls.
The hotel even pipes different air fresheners and music into each room.
Cambria's advertised room rates fall within a range of $139 to $179 per night.
"This is a trendy concept that is new, and it also gets them in the marketplace that is the 21st century," said Joe McInerney, president and chief executive of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Cambria Suites will serve breakfast and dinner in a bistro-style restaurant in the lobby, with most of the products being made on site. It also has a "grab and go" refrigerated case that includes sandwiches and salads for guests looking for a quick lunch.
Food items lean toward organic and healthful choices, said Scott Gilkey, a restaurant consultant who was training Cambria Suites employees last week. They include organic yogurt and cereal, freshly cut vegetables and fruits, omelets and pastries based on premises.
"We're making dining experiences that are good for you," Gilkey said.
Cambria Suites offers another touch for foodie guests: a barista bar featuring espresso-based drinks that's available 24 hours a day.
The hotel appears to match up well with a Hilton Garden Inn or a Courtyard by Marriott, but it's only the 13th Cambria Suites to be built, so it will have to overcome unfamiliarity among its potential guests.
It will try to do so with roomy suites that include two 32-inch plasma televisions, connections for portable media devices, pullout sofas and wireless and wired broadband connectivity.
The hotel also has more than 1,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, including a 12-person boardroom that has audiovisual equipment and a whiteboard.
"It's a very nice product, a little edgy, a very modern layout and look," said Columbus hotel broker Eric Belfrage, who is with CB Richard Ellis Hotel Group. "I think it's a good idea, but traditionally the focused-service hotels have not experienced as good net operating income as limited-service hotels."
Focused-service combines attributes of limited-service and full-service hotels. They don't typically serve three meals a day or have large conference or banquet spaces, as do full-service hotels, but their rooms and services are noticeable upgrades from limited-service properties.
Belfrage said one reason that owners like focused-service hotels is that they require a much smaller staff than full-service hotels.
Developer Sean Leatherman of American Hospitality Group of Wadsworth, Ohio, admits that his Cambria Suites south of Akron "got off to a little bit of a slow start." He said that's because "people don't know what it is."
"Once we give them a tour and get someone to actually stay, we're retaining them," he said.
And the brand's numbers are growing. Beilke said Cambria Suites has 65 signed deals and 50 more hotels in the pipeline. Leatherman said he's scouting out other locations, including sites in central Ohio. He has another under development in Erie, Pa.
The Polaris area now has eight hotels. The seven open last year were 67.5 percent full on average in the first 11 months of 2008, solidly above the citywide average of 62 percent.
Franz Geiger, managing director of Polaris developer NP Limited, said a Marriott-branded hotel is on his wish list because Polaris has none.
"There will be other hotels at Polaris," Geiger said. "Some of it will be driven by the economy, but there's a capacity for more hotels. The location is still ideal in that it's in an emerging market with freeway visibility."
Mike Pramik covers development for The Dispatch. Contact him at mpramik@ dispatch.com or by fax at 614-461-5107.
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