Choice debuts Ascend Collection in UK
Choice debuts Ascend Collection in UK
25 JANUARY 2016 7:47 AM
Choice Hotels International has introduced its Ascend Collection to the U.K., but the play is about more than just product placement, executives said.
REPORT FROM EUROPE—Choice Hotels International’s push to expand its franchise-only model throughout Europe remains its principal focus, and the company’s latest move will introduce its soft brand, Ascend Hotel Collection, into the United Kingdom.
Choice—which is based in Rockville, Maryland, but has its European headquarters in Amsterdam—announced Monday that the first two U.K. Ascend properties will open in Edinburgh, Scotland: the 18-room, 5-star The Howard, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member; and the 42-room, 4-star Channings Hotel, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member. Both properties will continue to be owned and managed by The Edinburgh Collection, which has two other properties in the Scottish capital.
Mark Pearce, SVP of Choice Hotels’ international division, told Hotel News Now that the company plans to expand the Ascend brand over the next three years to between seven and 10 properties in the U.K. and 80 or so across mainland Europe.
“Additional opportunities arise when a new brand is introduced into any market, and we’re seeing continued numbers of independent hotels looking for brands,” Pearce said, who added that the distribution struggle with online travel agencies is one factor that attracts independents.
“This is very much based on the value proposition Choice brings, and our intention of both maintaining existing relationships in these markets and growing the business,” Pearce said. “We see definite opportunities to leverage the brand in the U.K., where we believe opportunity exists mostly in the upscale sector and in unique, historical boutique hotels. 
“Ascend allows independent properties to celebrate their uniqueness and to leverage the Choice platform. We’re confident this will play out very well, with the Edinburgh properties trading locally under their own identities but now tapping into being a global dreamer through our large-scale distribution,” Pearce said.
Ricky Kapoor, commercial director of The Edinburgh Collection, said the deal was the next logical step for the properties, which his company bought in 2010. 
“We’ve been running the hotels successfully since we bought them, but we have recently been looking for a soft brand to go hand in glove with our plans,” Kapoor said. “We have an excellent reputation with local corporates, and now we have the support of Choice on an international level. We retain the benefits of owning and managing, along with now being part of its loyalty program.”
Kapoor added the other two properties in The Edinburgh Collection, The Old Waverley and Holyrood Aparthotel, did not fit into the Ascend model.
Pearce believes one benefit of Ascend is the attraction it has to loyal Choice guests.
“Ascend is well positioned to be the aspirational choice for redemption, for loyalty members to add roomnights, and it really speaks to the guest we are looking for,” Pearce said.
“Edinburgh has been a fantastic market for us, but we know we cannot be complacent,” Kapoor said. “We’re excited by what Choice is doing with Ascend and the ability to increase global reach and, so is the plan, improve revenue per available room.” 
Apart from the two new U.K. hotels, Ascend has properties in Denmark (one hotel), Ireland (two), Norway (two) and Sweden (six), according to the company’s website. Elsewhere, it has more than 100 hotels in 34 U.S. states and another 20-plus properties spread across the world.
Keeping tabs on consolidation
The expansion of soft brands follows such initiatives as AccorHotels opening up its distribution platform to independents and mirrors a general aggregation of assets throughout the industry, even large-scale consolidations, such as Marriott International’s pending acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.
Pearce said Choice has a huge scope in Europe, where many hotels are family-owned independents that wish to stay that way but need a definite helping hand in this era of disruption and heightened distribution. 
“We look on what is going on throughout the industry with interest,” Pearce said. “Consolidation is a good strategy, but it all will take some time to implement. We, too, are looking for new ways to utilize resources and develop size and scale, which of course have their advantages.”
Pearce added that he expects more consolidation on the industry’s horizon and possibly in Choice’s pursuits. 
“We potentially see more consolidation is likely to happen, but there is only so much space for that to happen,” Pearce said. “But within the independent sector, though, we see huge opportunity.”
This trend works to the advantage of both parties, Kapoor added.
“It allows hotels with personality to make use of these big systems, and it makes it easier for soft brands to bring in quality product,” Kapoor said. “For us, Ascend was a perfect fit. Choice gave us some contractual flexibility and brings in great value.” 

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