LAS VEGAS—While AmericInn’s main focus is continuing to refresh its 225-hotel portfolio, the Midwestern brand also is striving to compete with larger hotel brands on service levels and online traffic.
And while some owners might question the strategies, others are confident the AmericInn executive team has done its due diligence and partnered with the right research companies to validate their decisions.
After a recent casegoods refresh that is wrapping up this year, AmericInn owners now are facing a required vanity and bathroom renovation aimed to add a contemporary look to the rooms.
“We work with Market Metrix … and they provide us with a lot of data in addition to the basic scores that the hotels receive. We do a deep dive with them each year, and we use that as a source of (information),” said Paul Kirwin, president and CEO of AmericInn. “We also watch what our competitors do, which is critical. The reality is there’s a certain look that travelers expect today.”
The vanity updates are required by 1 January 2015 and will cost just less than $500 per room. Refreshing the bathrooms will be phased in through the property-improvement plan process. Owners will be required to remove small tile from the wall and either paint it or install design tile. The new changes call for the bathtub and surrounding areas to be resurfaced and the shower head and trim kits to be replaced.
An exterior refresh will be suggested as well, and AmericInn executives have determined that simply adding a bit of color will leave the biggest impact with the least cost. The company will introduce three different color schemes to give owners some options; the cost of the exterior refresh is approximately $25,000.
“It’s not cheap to do it, and we understand that,” said Kalpesh Patel, principal with owner-operator VKB Management. “But the flipside to it is you have to be competitive.
“From an owner’s standpoint, we have to work with the team, and they have to understand our cost issues and our financial issues. And we have to understand from them what it takes to bring the brand to the level.”
AmericInn owners listen to brand executives talk strategy during the company’s first-ever “owners’ session” during AmericInn’s 2013 brand conference.
Outside of the refresh, AmericInn is working on a number of changes to operate more efficiently.
Arlo Lehtinen, GM at the 50-room AmericInn Motel & Suites in St. Peter, Minnesota, said one of his biggest challenges is finding the right employees and then training his entire staff to be on the same page when dealing with guest issues.
Brand wide, 2,700 employees have completed AmericInn’s online employee training certification program since it was rolled out in 2012, and Lehtinen said it has been a huge help at his hotel.
“All my existing staff took it,” he said. “Every single one of them said they learned at least three things they didn’t now before they took it. It has been very beneficial in introducing them to the AmericInn way of doing things. Every AmericInn should be on the same page, and the basic message should be the same.”
Digital marketing and advertising is another focus for AmericInn brand executives. The challenge, they said, is competing with larger brands and online travel agencies as costs rise.
“One of things that keeps me up at night is how can we keep up with OTAs? They can constantly outbid us and get better placement,” said Mark Nicpon, VP of marketing and distribution and chief information officer.
Nipcon said AmericInn is in conversations with its owners’ advisory board and in the future may roll out a “pay-for-performance” model that would charge owners a percentage of revenue from bookings made through AmericInn.com. The fee might be necessary to help AmericInn compete with OTA’s large marketing budgets, particularly on cost-per-click sites like Google and TripAdvisor.
“Google is not just a search engine anymore, they’re beginning to sell hotel rooms,” said Chris Beltmann, digital marketing director.
Regarding AmericInn’s recent announcement to include TripAdvisor ratings and reviews directly on AmericInn hotel websites, one franchisee showed concern over fraudulent reviews and asked Beltmann whether or not it will be verified that those reviews came from guests who stayed at the property. Beltmann said TripAdvisor will serve up both verified and non-verified reviews and that verified reviews will be identified with a logo.
Lehtinen, who looks at his hotel’s TripAdvisor page at least three times a week and responds to all negative reviews, said the decision to include TripAdvisor reviews on his hotel’s webpage makes him a little nervous.
“I’m pretty good about keeping an eye on it, but now we’ll have to keep a closer eye on it,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing overall because people are using it more often.”
Lehtinen said fake reviews would stand out and raise an obvious red flag at his property. A good way to weed out fake or malicious reviews, he said, is by getting more reviews from legitimate guests overall.
To accomplish this, his staff at the AmericInn Motel & Suites in St. Peter distributes cards to guests who express positive sentiments upon departure, directing them to share that feedback on TripAdvisor.
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