BETHESDA, Maryland—With approximately two-thirds of the brand’s U.S. properties having completed the “Courtyard Refreshing Business” lobby renovation, Courtyard by Marriott global brand leader and VP Janis Milham is looking forward to taking the brand to new heights.
The 30-year-old Courtyard brand—once considered a “category killer” by its owners and competitors because of its appeal to business travelers—is pushing hard to stay on top of the select-service segment, Milham said.
“Back then (in 1983 when the brand’s first property opened in Atlanta) there was a big gap between full-service hotels and motels,” Milham said. “They launched a really great business hotel that fit in the middle that offered everything the travelers needed. But we were resting on our laurels a little bit.”
Janis Milham, Courtyard by Marriott global brand leader and VP
“By the mid-2000s a couple of things were going on,” she said. (Former president and current CEO) “Arne Sorenson said our lobbies were getting a little stodgy, and at the same time the business traveler had really changed in extraordinary fashion.”
So in 2008—two years before Milham’s appointment as the brand’s leader—Courtyard began its lobby refurbishment project by launching “Courtyard Refreshing Business” at its Fair Oaks, Virginia, property.
Closing in on completion
With 915 hotels, including more than 800 in the U.S., the brand’s refurbishment plan has surpassed the 500 mark. Milham said three-fourths of the system’s properties will be completed by the end of this year, and the entire roster will be updated by mid-2013.
“In four years to be able to accomplish a transformation like this has been pretty extraordinary,” Milham said.
A challenge the brand faced is that over the years the focus on the lobby and the space requirements for the lobby changed. With four generations of prototypes to deal with, the team needed to be creative, according to Milham.
“We looked at each of those models, we had about an equal amount of (generation) 1, 2 and 3 properties, and we had to take a different approach to each of those footprints,” she said. “Whether it’s a 30-year-old Courtyard, a 15-year-old Courtyard or a 10-year-old Courtyard, the pieces and parts are there.”
The redefined lobby includes pedestals instead of a front desk to allow an associate to easily move about the lobby, Milham said. “It provides a completely different check-in experience,” she said.
Another signature piece for the new lobby is its “Go Board”—a 55-inch digital touch screen for guests to interact with. There’s also a business center, a library and a home theater with a 72-inch screen.
Milham, who spent 15 years in Marriott’s full-service hotel division, said she is particularly pleased with the approach to food-and-beverage operations in the “Courtyard Refreshing Business” program. She described it as “Starbucks meets Panera” with fast casual, fresh food. In the evening, the space is a full bar with dinner fare.
“I started in this side of the business at Marriott and am delighted to see what we’re doing with this power brand,” Milham added. “The F&B component is so cool. My first thought was we could use this in some of our full-service hotels that don’t have a lot of F&B expertise.”
To meet the needs of all guests, Courtyard introduced communal tables with a large number of outlets and media pods designed to allow guests to have their own space in a community environment.
|A 55-inch interactive touch-screen “Go Board” is a focal point in Courtyard by Marriott’s “Courtyard Refreshing Business” lobby program.
“We had plenty of space before in our lobbies, but frankly, we just didn’t use it wisely,” Milham said. “We had to be smart on how we utilize existing space. The intent is not to have grandiose lobby space.”
The results of the first 500 refurbishments have been encouraging in two key measurements, the brand leader said.
“In (guest satisfaction scores) we’re seeing from 2 (points) to 10 points difference depending on which question you ask,” she said. “And we’re seeing a 2 (points) to 4 points premium in STAR market index.”
Milham said the brand had to counter new initiatives from competing brands to retain its market share. She said that because of the advertising and marketing efforts behind the program, guests who had left the brand to try other offerings have come back to give Courtyard another try. The campaign is called “Choices” because it depicts the choices travelers have when they stay at a Courtyard.
Investing in the future
Marriott manages approximately 40% of all Courtyard properties, Milham said. She added that the cost of the lobby program ranges from $500,000 to $800,000, depending on the building’s footprint.
“That cost is about a $300,000 to $400,000 incremental add above and beyond of what (owners) would have had to spend for a normal soft goods program,” she said.
The program hasn’t been used to trim older properties form the system—its intention was never to weed out properties. However, some owners have chosen to leave because they didn’t want to make the investment.
New-builds will include the lobby program. Milham said the brand has approximately 160 projects in the pipeline—the largest number of any of Marriott’s brands.
“There’s a lot in play,” Milham said. “We should hit 1,000 sometime in 2014. We’ve got a lot more potential in the U.S. and great potential elsewhere around the world.”
The brand has an advanced design concept in Canada and South America, and recently finalized a new prototype for Europe. In addition, it has specific prototypes for the Middle East and Asia because of the need for more grandiose lobbies, she said. But there are a number of things, including the “Go Board,” that will be brand-wide standards.