MIAMI BEACH, Florida—In an effort to attract business travelers and a younger demographic, executives at Country Inns & Suites are updating their brand and introducing a new modern room prototype.
During Country Inns & Suites 2013 brand conference in Miami, 777 attendees listened as Scott Meyer, senior VP of midscale hotel brands, and Thorsten Kirschke, president of the Americas for parent Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, reviewed the brand’s outlook for 2013 and its position at the halfway point of the company’s Ambition 2015 strategy.
“Carlson and Country Inn & Suites are in a very good spot today,” Kirschke said. “We have great potential ahead of us in the economy we’re in and the progress we all have made thanks to … never giving up.”
With an emphasis on evolution, the 25-year-old brand is looking to undertake a brand revolution, executives said.
The fourth-generation prototype of Country Inn & Suites features a sleeker, contemporary look with the aim of attracting more Generation Y travelers, with a particular focus on the male business traveler segment. The new look rolled out Monday morning on the brand’s website.
Gordon McKinnon, Carlson’s executive VP and chief branding officer, said the 2013 priorities consist of “looking to change the business mix and broaden the appeal and create a more profitable business.”
“It’s not just evolution, it’s not revolution,” he continued. “We believe in Country (Inns & Suites). We’re capable of creating new works; we call it ‘newvolution.’”
A new look
The new brand logo and prototype retains the company’s comfort and home-like DNA but also offers the “business traveler something different from the sea of sameness,” said Jim Grimshaw, senior director of brand program development and standards for midscale brands at Carlson.
“Our brand speaks a language that is founded on finding a sense of home and comfort,” he said.
But what looks like home to today’s consumers is changing. They want variety and visual interest, he said.
With only three major brand upgrades since Country Inns & Suites’ inception 25 years ago, the fourth-generation prototype makes Country Inns more competitive, executives said.
With soft colors, an emphasis on home and work, and social gathering places, the new prototype will “increase the appeal to younger and business travelers and retain the solid base,” Grimshaw said.
Offering greater visual interest to developers, the new design will appeal to urban markets and larger markets. Grimshaw added that the new look will allow the company to go “after city center locations,” he said.
To help mitigate costs to owners, Grimshaw said the modulized room allows owners to refresh “a piece here and there.” They can “transform a room without having to change out every piece,” he said.
Additionally, if a hotel opened in 2012, the brand will pay up to 100% of its signage replacement costs*. If it opened in 2011, Carlson will pay 90% of the cost; in 2010, 80% of costs; 2009, 70% of costs; and 2008, 60% of costs. If a hotel opened before 2008, a 40% signage credit will be given.
A sample of midscale travelers, Country guests and Club Carlson members, as well as consumers who never stayed at Country Inns, responded favorably to the changes, executives said. Nine in 10 (92%) found the new design favorable and 70% commented it was more appealing than the company’s competitors.
“Social media is an important aspect that plays a fundamental role in” Country’s generational changes, Kirschke said. Web revenue is up 9%, mobile revenue is up 122% and mobile traffic is up 153%, Meyer said.
To capitalize on the mobile momentum, the company is planning to roll out a pilot test of a mobile app throughout 2013 with hopes of a launch by 2014. The app will have a brand level and property-level functionality, said Aurora Toth, VP of marketing for the Americas.
Additionally, by 2015, executives are targeting 750 hotels in the Country Inns & Suites portfolio. “Despite the grey clouds that come occasionally, we’ve signed 16 hotels and opened 10,” Kirschke said. “We have a total pipeline that is waiting to be constructed of 150 hotels.” The brand has almost 500 hotels today.
“I could not be prouder of our new brand image,” Meyer said. “It’s essential for our existence. … What’s just as important, the essence of our brand is not changing. Our DNA, our service culture is a constant that we can never lose. That is our identity; that is our Country.”
Correction, 26 March 3: The original story did not specify what costs the brand would help pay.
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