TORONTO — Quality, the original Choice Hotels brand, celebrates 65 years in Canada this year. Even though it’s one of the senior hotel brands, it has evolved with the times and is as vibrant as ever.
“We have 97 now and we’re closing in on 100,” Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada, told CLN. “Quality has been a great story for us. We have six in the pipeline and will hit 100 next year.” Leon said he is proud of the way the brand has evolved over the years.
“We have a really strong portfolio in Canada and it is getting stronger all the time. We opened in Rimbey, Alta., have a new build in Edmundston, N.B., and a Quality Inn in downtown Montreal — three fabulous projects. Montreal won the [APEX] Best New Conversion entry [mid-market brands] — it’s a beautiful hotel. The Edmundston property is incredible; it has become one of our Top 5 hotels in terms of guest satisfaction. The Rimbey property, which used to be a Best Western, is off to a great start … in spite of it all.”
Quality is one of the fastest growing brands for Choice, especially in Western Canada. “If you look at the Quality brand, it has very broad appeal and global awareness that it is the roots of Choice Hotels,” Leon said. “Quality began in 1941 with Quality Courts; in 1972 it became Quality Inn and then evolved into Choice. It is well-known as the longest standing brand. The first Canadian Quality began in Summerside, P.E.I., and it is still a Quality.
“The brand is popular with both guests and developers because it is very adaptable for conversions, new builds in various locations with different sizes and amenities. It’s flexible to make it what it needs to be in various markets.”
“Beyond North America, the portfolio of hotels includes markets in Europe and Australasia — growth is tremendous across the world,” said Leon. There are 1,893 Quality hotels open around the globe, with 153,438 rooms.
Quality also has the highest LTR (likelihood to recommend) scores in Canada among Choice Hotels Canada properties. The scores show that the Quality brand has shown solid year over year growth. Quality accounted for five of the top 10 properties in 2018 with LTR of 8.13; in 2019 it accounted for four of the top 10 with LTR of 8.24; and in 2020 YTD, it has five of the top 10 properties with an LTR of 8.28.
“It’s an endearing brand; people know it is comfortable and that they can trust it because it is part of Choice,” Leon added.
Quality has shown strong performance relative to the market during the pandemic. The Quality brand in Canada experienced a year over year growth of 20.7 per cent as of October 2020 versus the same time last year. The Quality RevPAR index was 0.82 in October of last year, versus 0.99 in October 2020. (This data includes hotels from STR’s property roll-up.)
“All hotels were affected negatively by COVID-19,” said Leon. “Quality is doing way better than the overall market. They are in a lot of markets where people who are travelling need to be; there is brand trust; and the cleanliness protocols have been well-received. These hotels have largely stayed really involved in the local communities.”
Five of Choice Hotels Canada’s prestigious APEX awards were awarded to Quality properties this year. The Quality Inn in Val-d’Or, Que., is the reigning International Quality Hotel of the Year, for the second time. Choice just named Harinder Brar the APEX Developer of the Year. Brar has both Quality and Comfort properties, including a new build in Kingston, Ont., and another new build on Oliver Road in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Owner and developer stories
Raj Kumar, who is based in Richmond, B.C., purchased a Quality Inn in Hinton, Alta., in 2018. Located not far from the border of Jasper National Park, the Hinton property attracts tourists in the summer and workers in the winter. Industries in the area include road building, oil and gas, forestry, a power plant and farming.
“Different groups stay with us a long time,” said Kumar. “We have an aggressive general manager, Prerak (Pete) Desai, and we are doing very well.” Business was down — but not down too far — during COVID. They have sold 11,000 rooms so far in 2020, compared to 14,000 in 2019.
Kumar has been very happy with the Choice-branded hotel; in fact he is planning a new-build Comfort Inn, another Choice brand. “Brian Leon is a very nice and humble man. The only question he asked is, ‘What can we do for you guys to keep you happy?'” Kumar told CLN. He has also been pleased with the franchise support he receives from Choice Hotels Canada’s Juan Duran.
Kumar is a professional chef, who came to Canada in 1998. He has owned a restaurant called Tandoori Kona in Richmond, B.C. since 2002, and has since expanded to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and in January to Hinton. He opened the 100-seat restaurant in early January. Kumar believes in being involved in the town, donating 70-80 meals to the food bank each week, and periodically sending skids of groceries to the food bank.
Ajay Jhajj and his father, Gurjit, also had a foodservice background, owning Subway restaurants, then getting into residential construction, which led to the hospitality business. The Jhajj family have six hospitality properties, including both the Quality and Comfort properties in Yorkton, Sask. They also have a 115-room Comfort hotel in Salmon Arm, B.C., which they bought in 2015. This was their first experience with Choice Hotels Canada.
Yorkton is located in southeast Saskatchewan, two hours east of Regina towards the Manitoba border. It’s an agriculture-based economy in the third biggest trading area in Saskatchewan. It’s a transportation hub, with CN and CP Rail, lots of rubber-tire traffic since it is on Highway 16, the Yellowhead Highway, and Highways 9, 52 and 10 all pass through it. The town attracts people from the region, truckers, tourists and rubber-tire traffic.
“We have a great relationship with our franchise rep and the guys at the corporate office,” said Ajay Jhajj. “We are big believers in the Choice brand.” They bought the Quality Inn in 2016, after it had been purpose-renovated to become a Quality.
“Quality is the premium affordable choice of business people and travellers. They have all their comforts in their room including high-end linens, large TVs and large suites. There’s free breakfast and ample parking. The premium nature of the brand and the fact that it is affordable for any budget, make it the best value for their money.”