The new brand’s first property is a big hit, but it does raise questions about the exact definition of an extended-stay hotel.
Hilton Worldwide officially unveiled its first Home2 Suites by Hilton property this week. On Wednesday, it was the trade media’s turn to take a look at the 118-room property in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.
Hilton’s newest brand is fresh, roomy and efficient. It’s a place I would take my family and be comfortable while traveling on business. This first Home2 Suites property features a sustainability story line and has enough twists on traditional hotel offerings to make it anything but a copycat brand in a sea of me-toos.
In one regard, Home2 Suites might be on a mission to change the extended-stay segment. Literally.
Bucking the extended-stay trend
Two characteristics have long defined an extended-stay hotel: guests who stay five nights or more and a countertop burner. Home2 Suites has the first one covered: The first guest who checked in when the property opened on 3 February had a reservation for 65 days. The second characteristic is where Home2 Suites is bucking the trend. It has no countertop burner, although an induction burner is available at the front desk for guests who want to do some old-fashioned cooking. Otherwise, they’re left with a microwave oven.
Bill Duncan, the brand leader for Home2 Suites and its sister brand Homewood Suites (which does have in-room countertop burners), said the decision to not have the feature in the new brand was an easy one.
Hilton’s research indicates a countertop burner is low on the list of priorities for extended-stay guests, Duncan said. Topping the list is space, then a full-size refrigerator, then a microwave, then a dishwasher. A countertop burner was way down on the list, he added.
“We really tried to understand what the customers value, and they said space is at the top of their list,” Duncan said. “We made the decision that it was something we could get rid of in lieu of more counter space.”
He also said many jurisdictions frown on the countertop burners and zoning often is not approved for hotels with such a feature.
The move could create plenty of confusion in the extended-stay classification system, so it will bear watching.
In the meantime, the Fayetteville hotel (built by LBA Hospitality and sold to Apple REIT while LBA maintains the management contract) has some interesting features. From the signature multi-color beacon at the top of the building to the walking trail around the perimeter of the lot to the in-room Herman Miller ergonomic chair, the property offers things that will stand out to guests.
The lobby is called the oasis, but with a brand standard 57-inch TV hanging there, they might want to rename it “paradise.” The big couch that’s the focal point of the oasis, called a banquette, is a scene stealer.
The Home2 Suites lobby, called the oasis, features a large banquette seat and a 57-inch television.
There are sustainable elements throughout the property, including:
- The breakfast area uses porcelain mugs rather than paper cups in order to reduce waste;
- recycling bags in every room;
- a saline pool rather than a chlorine pool to reduce the amount of chemicals released;
- flooring made from recycled materials located throughout the property; and
- a waste receptacle and a recycling receptacle near the elevator shaft on each floor.
One of the coolest areas of the hotel is called the Spin Cycle—a combination of a laundry and fitness facility.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback, especially from female travelers, who say they feel safe because of all the glass,” said GM Shane Bussino.
Inside the guestrooms, it’s the little things that make a big difference. The LED lighting located on the outside edges of light switch plates is great. An ultra awesome blackout blind that beats any curtain system I’ve ever seen in a hotel room is a unique feature. And even the soap and shampoo dispensers in the shower are appreciated—as long as they work. (The soap dispenser in my room didn’t work, but have no fear; I was able to use a bar of soap from the sink as a backup!)
The standard studio room is 323 square feet; the standard one-bedroom unit is 504 square feet. A curtain can be drawn in the middle of the studio room to create a two-room feeling and the 10-foot ceilings give it plenty of open space.
The brand was launched on 26 January 2009, so it took almost two years to get the first opened. Another property opened recently in Layton, Utah, after an eight-month construction period. Duncan said the brand hopes to have eight or nine hotels open by the end of this year, and there are 77 properties in the pipeline.
The ultimate plan is to have the brand go international once it gets its North American performance story fine tuned, Duncan said, adding he expects the pipeline to pick up.
“We’ve had a lot of (developers) say, ‘We want to see one first, we’re holding land for it,’” Duncan said.
Scott Reid, LBA’s regional director of operations, said the property’s first-month occupancy was 68%. The hotel is building its extended-stay clientele, and Reid said the plan is to have the extended-stay business up to 60% of the overall business within six months. It surpassed a 100% occupancy index last week.
“We’ve always targeted 60% extended-stay business,” Duncan said.
The cost to build the property was US$90,000 per key (including land), Duncan said. The prototype pro forma puts the price per key, excluding land, at US$75,000. It employs 30.
All of this adds up to plenty of potential success for Home2 Suites. Duncan said the brand will compete in the midscale extended-stay segment. It certainly has the legs to be a dominating force in that segment once it reaches critical mass.