LAS VEGAS—For some iconic hotel brands, age can be a very good thing—provided it’s leveraged in a way that benefits owners.
That’s precisely the case with Howard Johnson, Wyndham Hotel Group’s once orange-roofed roadside respite for weary road warriors and vacation-bound families, according to Eric Danziger, Wyndham’s president and CEO.
During a break at the company’s global brand conference in Las Vegas, Danziger said he wants to leverage the brand’s status in the pantheon of American nostalgia through an as-yet-unannounced refresh.
“I’m not trying to create a new Howard Johnson,” he said. “I’m trying to bring back the old one.”
Within Wyndham’s portfolio, there are 451 Howard Johnson hotels in 13 countries.
While there’s no official word on the state of the refresh or what exactly it will entail, Danziger said the company is getting close to rolling out a new prototype.
“We have been engaged with internal owners and employees, customers, and an outside company (Hornall Anderson) that we engaged a year ago and have spent a lot of time with them doing research, fact-finding and (generating) ideas,” he said. “I think we’re way down the road now in developing those ideas. We’ll now move down the phase of creating a prototype and testing it out.”
The finished design will be modern and forward-looking—as should be the case with any new brand or refresh, he said—but for Howard Johnson it is crucial Wyndham is “very, very inclusive of the past.”
“It’s an emotional connection with a brand,” Danziger said. “You went there on vacation. You went there for ice cream.”
Breathing life into an old brand
Being an old brand isn’t a bad thing, Danziger said. The key is to breathe new life into it.
Converse, for example, was one of the most popular brands of sneakers when Danziger was a child, he said, but then the brand went away for some 30 years. Today, it seems like every kid owns a pair.
Earlier in the day, Rui Barros, Wyndham’s brand senior VP, who oversees the Howard Johnson brand among others, used the example of Old Spice. Five years ago the brand was associated with grandfathers, he said. But an aggressive marketing campaign targeted toward younger men has garnered significant gains in market share.
“Our brand is known and loved by many,” he said. “… Wyndham Hotel Group is committed to exploring new ways to supporting us now and into the future.”
For its part, Wyndham has already taken steps to reinvigorate Howard Johnson. The company in September launched new brand websites throughout its portfolio, and last weekend it rolled out new mobile websites that use simple geo-location capabilities to increase ease of booking. Apps are on the way as well and should launch within 30 days, said Flo Lugli, Wyndham’s executive VP of marketing.
The company also is aggressive in keyword target buys and other marketing initiatives, including a partnership with the Harlem Globetrotters.
The efforts seem to be paying off. Howard Johnson’s U.S. portfolio during 2011 approached 9% growth in revenue per available room fueled by a 35% increase through the brand’s central reservation system.
Howard Johnson also has scored second in J.D. Power & Associates’ guest satisfaction rankings for two years running (behind its Wyndham peer, Microtel Inn & Suites).
“I’m really excited about reinvigorating that brand,” Danziger said. “I’m passionate about the relaunch of it, whatever we want to do.”