BTN U.S. Hotel Chain Survey, 2008: Suite Clarity: Homewood, Homestead Sweep Ext. Stay - Business Travel News

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BTN U.S. Hotel Chain Survey, 2008: Suite Clarity: Homewood, Homestead Sweep Ext. Stay

March 17, 2008 - 12:00 AM ET

By Michael B. Baker

In a year when the U.S. extended stay lodging sector reached record levels of revenue and supply, buyers gave top scores to Hilton Hotels Corp.'s brand in the upscale extended stay segment, Homewood Suites by Hilton.

After finishing third last year, Homewood Suites made a clean sweep in the 2008 U.S. Hotel Chain Survey, earning the top score for all eight criteria and averaging a significantly higher score than all other brands. Buyers last rated Homewood Suites highest in 2005. Last year's top scorer, Residence Inn by Marriott, ranked second, followed by InterContinental Hotels Group's Staybridge Suites, TownePlace Suites by Marriott and IHG's Candlewood Suites.

In the midprice extended stay tier, Homestead Suites, part of the Extended Stay Hotels family, topped the category for the fourth year in a row, also earning top scores for every criterion. Extended Stay America, also a part of Extended Stay Hotels, finished second, as it did in the two prior years.

Altogether, 2007 was a strong year for the extended stay tier. U.S. annual room revenues grew 9.5 percent to a record $5.9 billion, continuing the sharp growth pattern seen since 2004, according to The Highland Group's 2008 U.S. Extended Stay Lodging Market Report. Overall occupancy was down slightly to 73.7 percent but remained 10.5 percentage points higher than the overall hotel industry, the report said. Average rate rose by 6.6 percent to $80.76, and revenue per available room was up 5.5 percent to $59.54.

Rebecca Wyatt, senior vice president of brand management for Homewood Suites, said her brand's resurgence in popularity among travel buyers was the cumulative result of several years worth of focused initiatives within the brand. "From a service perspective, we looked at every category and did a massive amount of training," Wyatt said. "We had that become a call to action for all of our hotels. The intent is really not just to make your guests happy but to make them outrageously happy."

About three years ago, Homewood Suites launched its "Distinctly Homewood" initiative, improvements designed to give the properties more of a residential feel, Wyatt said. The transition should be finished by year-end, she said.

Technology also has given the brand a boost, Wyatt said. Homewood has rolled out IPod-based training modules so that its staff can have on-the-job training assistance, and it also has debuted a suite selection tool to give frequent guests a chance to have more control over where they stay in the properties. "You can't quite pick your suite yet, but you can pick based on hotel layout," she said.

Residence Inn attributes its high scores to recent initiatives, said Katie Tyson, vice president of brand management. For example, the brand began rolling out new bedding in 2006, part of an overall initiative to give Residence Inn a more modern feel, she said.

Residence Inn also has focused on service. The brand hosted training sessions for leaders at all of its more than 530 properties, Tyson said. The brand also launched a new series of social events for guests, including events centered around certain television programming, a manager's toast and a barbecue, all of which Tyson said were a response to business traveler needs.

"Guests are staying with us five nights or more, and they go from being on all day to getting back to their guest rooms and having to turn completely off," Tyson said. "They told us we had the opportunity to help with the in-between time, to help design places for them to unwind."

In the midprice segment, Extended Stay Hotels CEO Gary DeLapp said Homestead Suites' consistency across the brand continues to resonate with corporate travel buyers. Real estate firm The Lightstone Group, which acquired the company last year, plans to further grow the brand through acquisitions and new builds and may introduce initiatives across all Extended Stay Hotels brands in the near future, DeLapp said.

"We're working on consolidating the brands and finding out what resonates well with the corporate traveler," he said.

Most of the extended stay industry's supply growth happened in the upscale tier in 2007, according to the Highland Group's report. Overall supply reached a record 277,194 rooms in 2007, and the largest year-over-year growth rate, 8 percent, was within that tier.

Homewood Suites' Wyatt didn't expect a possible economic slowdown to affect supply growth: The brand has more than 130 hotels in its pipeline. With Hilton's recent acquisition by The Blackstone Group, discussions continue on how to grow the brand as quickly as possible.

"From what I'm seeing across my desk, there are more hotel companywide agreements than I've seen historically," Wyatt said. "I have not seen any kind of slowdown."
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