NEW YORK—Fairfield Inn & Suites has come a long way since its inception in 1987.
The then-economy, exterior corridor chain has evolved into an upper-midscale mainstay within parent company’s Marriott International’s 13-brand portfolio.
And now Fairfield, armed with a fourth generation prototype designed to meet the functional needs of travelers, is poised for global expansion that will see its first entrants in both India and Brazil.
“We realized as the environment started to change, as the moderate tier really started to represent itself in the U.S. as a huge opportunity for growth, that there was a real opportunity to take Fairfield and evolve it and reposition it into the moderate tier,” said Shruti Buckley, VP of global brand management for Fairfield, speaking from an office in New York.
The process began in earnest between 2003 and 2007, when brand management embarked in what Buckley called the “prune and plant” phase—removing chain laggards and partnering with key owners who would “represent the brand in the right way.”
Fairfield Inn & Suites
During 2009, the chain also dropped its Fairfield Inn concept. Now every property must contain suites.
Fairfield comprises nearly 700 properties with more than 62,000 rooms throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. Approximately 99% of the properties are franchised, she said.
Fairfield’s primary outlet for growth remains in North America, where 108 properties comprising more than 10,000 rooms sit in the pipeline.
But company management for the first time has taken a concerted effort to export the brand into emerging markets throughout the globe. Brazil and India top the list, with nine properties and more than 1,400 rooms under development, Buckley said.
The development team created special prototypes to better meet traveler profiles in each country. The first property in India will open during 2013. The first in Brazil will begin welcoming guests a year later.
Buckley said Marriott continues to evaluate other opportunities for expansion, particularly countries in Central and South America.
“There is a huge demand and need for quality and moderate-tier product,” she said.
But expanding the Fairfield footprint is only one of the goals. Developing properties in these key, emerging markets will also drive demand in the U.S., which is seeing an influx of travelers from the likes of Brazil and India.
“It helps build brand awareness as those people travel to the U.S.,” Buckley said.
Fairfield for a new generation
Perhaps the most notable change for Fairfield comes in the form of the brand’s new fourth generation prototype.
Featuring brighter colors and a more functional design, the prototype is designed to better address the top three priorities of business travelers: a great work space, a great bath experience and storage solutions that work.
To meet the first need, Fairfield’s management team built a flexible work space with a rolling desk and chair, brighter lighting, more outlets and an ergonomic chair.
To address the second, the group implemented glass showers in king-size rooms.
Additionally, the Fairfield brand will now feature plenty of drawers with “peek-a-boo” openings, allowing travelers to easily see what’s packed away so as not to leave anything behind.
“It was just really looking at smart and intuitive ways to address the needs of these travelers,” she said.
The prototype also addresses the social aspect of travel. Public spaces will feature comfortable clusters of easily moveable furniture to promote informal meetings and discussion.
“We have a large communal table that also has outlets embedded in the furniture piece,” Buckley said. “… It was creating a work space and an environment that encouraged people to gather (for both) social and work.”
|The new fourth generation prototype features brighter colors and functional work spaces to promote informal meetings in public spaces. (Source: Marriott International)
Building a better portfolio
The fourth generation prototype was also designed with affordable development in mind. Buckley declined to share an average cost per development given the variance in market pricing, but using Marriott’s home base of Washington, D.C., as a benchmark, she said the brand is well within the price tag for similarly priced, moderate-tier assets.
The new prototype also affords developers flexibility to fit their budgets, Buckley said. Fairfield can fit most footprints and boxes; a property in a major urban market might opt for fewer suites, for example, while a property in a more expansive leisure market might feature more suites to drive higher rates.
On average, 25% of the typical Fairfield rooms are suites, she said.
The brand is slightly less flexible when it comes to the nature of expansion. “Definitely our focus is on new builds,” Buckley said, emphasizing the need to push product quality and the new prototype.
“The ability to secure (construction) financing is still a challenge in the industry. However, we are hearing that banks are showing signs of them loosening up. Fairfield's efficient cost to build and Marriott's endorsement certainly gives the brand an advantage over other players in the industry,” she said.
Marriott will allow conversions only in select markets in the right buildings and the right sites.
Existing assets will not be required to completely upgrade to the fourth generation prototype, Buckley said. However, the brand’s renovation package includes most of the prototype’s core components, such as the improved work station and furniture for public spaces.
Marriott requires every hotel within its system to renovate every six years. Fairfield franchisors will be expected to implement the new renovation package on that schedule, Buckley said.
That should keep Fairfield’s evolution churning at a speedy clip, she said.
“The one thing that keeps me up at night is the growth piece. We’ve spent over a year, year and a half developing this new (fourth generation prototype), and now the key is getting it rolled out as quickly as we can in the U.S., and in the prototypes we developed for India and Brazil.”