Hampton Hotels launched its “Forever Young Initiative” to keep up with younger consumers.
PHOENIX—Hampton Hotels’ top executive wants the brand to remain relevant with people who were born at the same time it was. What it will cost each owner of the brand’s more than 1,900 properties remains to be seen, but its “Forever Young Initiative” is essential for Hampton’s future as it prepares for its 30th anniversary next year, said Phil Cordell, global head of focused service and Hampton brand management at Hilton Worldwide.
The Hampton Hotels portfolio includes the Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites brands.
Cordell, a Hampton Inn lifer who served as the GM at the brand’s second property, said during a break last month at the 19th annual Lodging Conference that evolving Hampton’s standing in the eyes of the Gen X and millennial demographic groups is essential. Equally important is ensuring older hotels in Hampton’s system are updated if their owners want to renew franchise agreements. Additionally, new-build hotels entering the chain must look modern.
“It’s a brand that’s always been about change-ready, future-focused, creating a journey,” Cordell said. “Our customer demographic today is certainly about baby boomer, business traveler, senior and families, and that will continue to be our bread and butter for a while.
“But I personally have a strong interest in Gen X, Gen Y and millennials,” he said. “It’s a population that’s twice as large as the boomers today, so it’s about having an understanding for what they look for, how they think about brands, are brands important, (and) what is important about the experience.”
The FYI is a multi-pronged program that, when launched in 2014, will focus on updating guestroom bathrooms and case goods, as well as modernizing exterior curb appeal of properties.
“It’s really about taking a brand that has a number of properties that are early generation hotels that are in great locations, probably irreplaceable locations, and without compromising the differentiation and power of the brand, finding ways to reinvest. We’re asking the owners to reinvest, in a way to keep that hotel viable for another 20 years,” Cordell said.
Cordell said determining which elements to include in the FYI took lengthy consideration because it doesn’t only involve new-build projects. The brand has a number of older properties in its system, including early-generation hotels that have expiring long-term franchise deals.
“We had to be purposeful in our thinking about the older hotels in the system,” he said. “The owners have been loyal; the hotels are in great locations, but those hotels need more than a typical (property improvement plan) delivers.”
A focus on older properties
Cordell said the program works well with owners of older hotels who are looking to sign a longer-term licensing agreement and need upgrades to accomplish it.
“To get lending they have to have the story,” Cordell said. “We initially started out thinking about how to keep these older Hamptons around, but it has turned into a program that will be used for PIPs on changes of ownerships and new builds.”
Cordell declined to give a specific dollar figure for the cost of the changes. He said the cost will vary by location and will be influenced by factors such as whether the roof is physically attached to the hotel’s infrastructure.
“When we look at the entire package, if a hotel has to do the inside and the exterior, and it’s a palatable number (for the owner), then we will consider extending the life of the license agreement,” Cordell said. “If it’s a viable market, and they do the work, then yes, it’s a license extension.”
Some of the changes will be instituted though the quality assurance process over the next few years, Cordell said.
“It’s the scope of changes … we have to be reasonable,” Cordell said. “It didn’t feel reasonable to a franchisee for us to say, ‘You have to spend this big chunk of money in three years.’ Money doesn’t fall from up above.”
Cordell said he views the FYI as another show of commitment from the brand and its parent company, Hilton Worldwide, to protect owners’ investments.
According to Hampton Inns Franchise LLC’s franchise disclosure document, the total investment necessary to begin operation of a newly constructed 101-room/suite Hampton Inn & Suites hotel, excluding real property, is between $7,743,500 and $13,524,000.
There’s no deadline for the FYI program to be implemented across the brand.
“We’re not going to set an arbitrary date,” Cordell said. “It will cycle its way in.
“Hampton always has been and will continue to be aggressive in how we keep the brand moving forward,” he said. “But for the big ticket items … this is significant enough that (owners) need time to digest it.”
Building the foundation
Cordell pointed to innovations at Hampton over the years that laid the groundwork for this program, including being the first brand to have data ports in the room; 25-inch TVs; irons and ironing boards; and the 100% satisfaction guarantee.
He said the “Make it Hampton” campaign launched nearly nine years ago that introduced 127 changes to Hampton properties—including the all-white bed and a focus on cleanliness—and the “Perfect Mix Lobby” program that was completed in 2012 were home runs that influenced the latest program.
He said the Perfect Mix Lobby program is playing well with the younger generations because it provides the type of hub public space the demographic expects. Cordell said the next step includes making sure the guestrooms meet younger generations’ needs and the external curb appeal is inviting to their tastes.
The interior portion of the program is about new case goods and functionality, Cordell said.
Among the notable changes included in the FYI is a switch to a clean, white bath concept to match the existing bedding program. The bathroom floor, however, will deviate from white, as it will either be a water-resistant wood laminate or tile.
“White signals clean, but we wanted to stay away from institutional white,” Cordell said. “We came up with a white base that has an element of pattern and design.”
Each room will have a mini fridge. Clothing drawers will have pull-out shelves that have wire baskets rather than a wooden box structure. Carpet tiles will replace full carpet swaths. The brand executives are working with sofa manufacturers to introduce a pull-out bed concept “that you can actually sleep on,” Cordell said. The brand is also going to wall-mounted night stands on both sides of the bed that both have power accessibility and a pull-out shelf.
A more inviting exterior
A smaller, better-lit porte cochere and a new roofline design different from the traditional mansard design, are the main components of the exterior portion of the FYI.
Cordell said when Hampton debuted, the mansard roof design was trendy and stood out, but over time that impact has been eroded by other hotels and businesses that have replicated the look. Therefore, the mansard roof will be covered by a signature cornice.
“When you introduce lighting to it, it adds a completely different look,” Cordell said.
The brand has some contrasting paint options so that every hotel is not locked into the same exterior color scheme. Cordell said it’s time for the brand to expand its collective thinking about travelers’ expectations.
“At one point, the exterior consistency was a must have,” Cordell said. “Now that we’ve grown up, consistency can be achieved in different ways.”
A positive global outlook
Beyond the FYI, Cordell said Memphis, Tennessee-based Hampton is focused on continuing to increase its footprint at home and abroad. The key elements needed for such growth are in place.
“We’re at a point in time where focused service, select service has really got a lot of attention in the development community for the financial returns and the ability to finance the product,” Cordell said. “So we’re in a great time of growth for the brand.”
Cordell said the U.S. continues to be viable for expansion, but Europe has become more active for the brand.
“Specifically in eastern Europe—Turkey, Russia, Poland,” Cordell said. “We’re starting to establish some ground in the U.K. Europe is really an area of concentration. Obviously western Europe because it’s more similar to the U.S, but eastern Europe has turned out to be quite a surprise for us.”