By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
LOS ANGELES—“I’ve got to get me one of those,” said Steve Joyce, president and CEO of Choice Hotels International, after he opened the hotel company’s 59th annual conference by conducting the Santa Cecilia Orchestra based out of Los Angeles, as Irish tenor Ronan Tynon sang an inspiring rendition of The Impossible Dream.
“There are seven basic notes in all of Western music,” Joyce told the audience of developers, owners and franchisees. “It’s all about knowing what part to play.”
A musical score rises above noise when everyone performs to the best of their abilities, he added.
In the past year, Choice Hotels International added properties and pruned some—for a net gain of 90 domestic and international hotels. Actual numbers showed 6,264 hotels in the first quarter of 2013 versus 6,174 during the same period in 2012.
Joyce noted that 2012 was a watershed year, with total revenue up 8 per cent and RevPAR up 6 per cent.
$40 million for Comfort
Joyce pledged $40 million to help Comfort Inns achieve the transformation of properties outlined at last year’s conference. Right now, the funds apply only to the approximately 1,900 Comfort-branded properties across the United States.
He added that 2012 was a year of powerful performance, and that Choice should finish 2013 in a very strong position. “The economy in the U.S. is improving and I see steady growth for both the economy and the hotel industry,” Joyce said.
Earlier this year, Choice Hotels International shifted its corporate headquarters to Rockville, MD from Silver Springs, to a larger building with more light and space.
The Cloud, mobile, big data
Pat Pacious, executive vice president, Global Strategy and Operations, opened the session on technology with a video from Microsoft. In it, a hotel guest navigated seamlessly through travel decisions and hotel arrival using a paper-thin hand-held device.
The interesting part about this impressive video is that the technology already exists, said Pacious. The Cloud, mobile and big data are already part of our lives.
Pacious talked about an application called Shazam that can identify a song that’s playing, provide you with the singer and lyrics, and even an opportunity to buy the music online.
Choice has been retooling the back-of-the house computer systems. They have a brand new data centre, that was packed up and moved to the new offices over a period of eight weeks, without any downtime.
Their loyalty program, Choice Advantage, has a new look, and the rate centre has improved rate management.
He gave an example of how big data can help hotels operate more effectively. The Comfort Suites in Greensboro, NC was missing one of its key accounts. By diving deep and mining the data, they discovered that the account was still active, but had gone with the competition. Digging deeper still, they found that those guests felt that the customer service was fine at the Comfort Suites, but that the rooms were dated. The hotel took action and improved the rooms. They have seen a 17.5 per cent rise in occupancy in March, along with a 16.5 per cent increase in RevPAR.
At the conference, Choice’s Franchise Services team provided hotels with a snapshot of their performance, along with recommendations as to which education sessions would be most helpful.
There’s also an enhanced search feature that uses previous guest searches to provide suggestions regarding marketing to those guests. “The idea is to help manage social media, leaving nothing on the table,” Pacious said.
For the first time, sales of tablets exceeded those of desktop or laptop computers last year. Mobile business was up 200 per cent in 2012 compared to the previous year. It now constitutes 13 per cent of Choice’s business—three years ago it made up less that 1 per cent.
Choice now has a Rapidbook process that makes it easier to book on any platform—just a search and one click to make a reservation.
“Success rests on your willingness to embrace these technologies,” said Pacious. “If you’re not using all we have to offer, your competition is leaving you in the dust.”