LAS VEGAS — Canada’s Brian Leon, who recently became president at Choice
Hotels Canada, gave Canadian Lodging News a Canadian perspective on all the
news that came out of the Choice Hotels International Conference 2018 held in
Las Vegas last week, including the biggest announcement, new logos for Comfort hotels.
Delegates to the conference waited with eager anticipation outside the conference room for the big reveal of the new logo. Megan Brumagim, head of the brand portfolio that includes Comfort, and John Seabreeze, Comfort brand leader, unveiled the new logo.
“We realized the old Comfort logos were not going to cut it,” said Seabreeze, noting that panels had called them “dated” and “generic.” There were different logos for Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites and Comfort Inn and Suites, which they wanted to unite through signage. Testing of the new logo showed guests would pay $8 per night more, and that the new logo plus an updated hotel would give the average Comfort a lift of $150,000 per year.
can expect all Comfort properties across the United States to have completed
their renovations and updated their signage by the end of 2020. Properties in the U.S. will not receive the new signage until they have completed their renovations.
Choice Hotels Canada's Leon is excited about the new Comfort logo, seeing it as the
culmination of years of work to elevate the Comfort brand, which accounts for
almost one half of Choice Hotels Canada’s portfolio — 150 of the country’s 318 hotels, and seven in the pipeline.
“Our situation is a little different from the U.S., because
of the old Journey’s End properties,” Leon said. “Over the past four years, $100 million has
been invested in renovations, largely InnVest REIT, but also independent
investors. [Both Canada and the U.S.] are focused on taking the Comfort brand
and making it great, but we have had fewer terminations and more investment
than the U.S. side.”
As in the U.S., most of the growth with Comfort has been new
product — 80 per cent new build, the same proportion as the U.S. “We have seen amazing momentum,” said Leon.
“There are four new Comforts in the pipeline in Ontario alone, and three have
already broken ground. And another four
will hit the pipe in the next 60 days.”
The four new Ontario Comforts are in Clarington, Napanee, Goderich and
The Comfort Inn North Battleford will be online by June, and
then there’s the Comfort Bowmanville/Clarington, the first new-build Comfort to
open in Ontario in 15 years.
As in the U.S., Canada will be implementing the new signage.
“All new builds except [the one in] Clarington will have the new signs,” said Leon, adding
that Canada will be looking at a subsidy program for the new signage.
He said that reaction to the new logo among Canadian
franchisees at the convention has been overwhelmingly positive. “They see it as
being more contemporary, a nice, clean look. It’s great from and interior and
exterior branding point of view. The timing is great because it signals a
change, which has really happened over the last several years. It’s a
monumental evolution or transformation based on research that is extremely
As in the U.S., Canadian hotels will have to complete the
Move to Modern design initiative before they get the new signage, “but because
of the work and capital invested, we don’t see that as a negative barrier.”
While Comfort is CHC’s largest brand, Quality is the second
largest with 93 hotels — and it is the fastest growing brand,” with nine in the pipeline, said Leon.
“It’s both new builds and conversions, and it’s doing great from a performance
point of view.”
Quality, Clarion and Comfort have all had really significant
RevPAR index growth, “such a positive trajectory over the past few years,” said
Leon. There are nine Clarions open today.
Ascend is another brand showing great momentum, with new
ones planned for Sarnia and Thunder Bay, and another few in the pipeline by the
end of the year. “We are working to grow Ascend in the west, with Juan [Duran], based out of B.C.,” said Leon. “We are strong in the east, but starting to get
traction in other parts of the country.”
“We are continuing to be aggressive about eliminating the
worst of our hotels,” said Leon. “You just have to.” The company is showing
good positive net growth, and each year CHC is adding hotels that raise the
Franchise Survey shows positive results
The third CHC Franchise Survey, conducted every two years,
was extremely positive, Leon said, with over 85 per cent of franchisees
surveyed saying that they would definitely or probably recommend CHC. “In a directional sense, we looked
at the likelihood of franchisees to recommend us rather than our competitors,
and that’s where we have really gained ground,” said Leon, explaining that many
Choice franchisees also have brands with other companies.
“Different departments gave us rave reviews, and the biggest
areas gained ground. That’s a good thing for us as we are a 100 per cent
Growth strategy —
find your own markets
Leon said when looking at growth strategy, it’s important
not to look at the same markets as your competitors. Choice looks at land availability,
development costs, which opportunities provide the best hotel ROI, and new
builds versus conversions. They look at
new builds in tertiary markets where there is little or no brand presence,
such as Goderich, Napanee and Kemptville.
“If we build the first one, we’re the first game in town and
we can really capitalize on that,” said Leon. “The communities really get
behind it, and aren’t aggressive about development fees, taxes, etc. We always
adapt the prototype to the market — if they need extensive meeting space, for