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CHOC Board - If You're Low, You've Got to Go

The Choice Hotels Owner's Council won't permit bottom feeders on their National Board. Here's why.

Monday, August 31, 2009
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Choice Hotels International isn’t the only one cleaning up its act. The Choice Hotels Owner’s Council (CHOC) is also investing in its future. And it’s making it clear to Choice brand franchisees that if they want to be involved on a national level they have to be serious about their own business first and foremost.

Earlier this summer the Board for the Choice Hotels Owner’s Council unanimously passed a rule requiring that any individual desiring to represent franchise holders at the national level cannot be in the bottom 20 percent of the system according to guest satisfaction scores.

It’s a move Todd Winkler, CHOC Chairman, said is necessary to the future health of businesses flying Choice Hotels-branded flags.

“This move brings more credibility to people sitting at the table with Choice,” said Winkler, who is also President and COO of Wisco Hotel Group, a company that owns 11 hotels, four of which are Choice-branded properties. “If your hotel is in the bottom 20 percent of its respective brand, you are hurting other owner-operators. Your focus shouldn’t be on sitting on the national CHOC board, it should be on getting scores and guest comments up. You have to make your guests happy and get out of that bottom 20 percent first.”

The idea for this new rule first started being bandied about more than a year ago when Steve Joyce first arrived as Choice Hotels International’s new CEO. Winkler said talk quickly moved to ways to begin cleaning up the system and getting the system on pace with their direct competitors in the select service segments. Winkler said Joyce and the board members chatted about their hope to clean the system up of poor-performing hotels through franchisor fiat.

But at the same time it became apparent to Joyce and the Board that the Owner’s Council had some of those people in the room that didn’t represent the better properties. Therefore, it’s in the best interest of all the individual owners that owners of bottom-rated hotels not represent other owners at the national level.

“I started talking about changing our policies to include a rule that you can’t run for a national position unless you are in the top 80 percent of your respective brand. This move demonstrates we are serious about exceeding our guests’ expectations and giving them a better experience. We want to become a better perceived hotel company by leading from the top down, and not the bottom up,” said Winkler.

Since Choice Hotels International does not appoint hotel owners to the Board, this was a decision that strictly came from owner-operators, not from a franchisor dictum, explained Tim Shuy, VP, Owner Relations & Franchise Management with Choice Hotels International.

“CHOC is an independently elected body and that sets them apart as an association from different franchisors. It is something we have been talking about for a while and I am glad it came to fruition. From our perspective the role of the CHOC council is to provide feedback and give us ideas and to help us along. We think it is better served for everyone in the system that the folks that provide us with information from our franchise community be the ones operating the better hotels,” said Shuy.

CHOC Vice Chairman Mike Chattam agreed.

“We will be stronger in the future because we earn more respect from Choice Hotels International when they know they are dealing with the better operators in the system,” said Chattam, who has three Choice-branded properties as part of his role as Managing Member in two hospitality companies: Carolina Hotel Associates and Riverview Holdings.

“We feel strongly that, for Choice to be a major player and to be successful in this difficult marketplace, we need better operations in place to dictate policy. Better operators know that you may incur some expense to maintain consistency but that it’ll cost you more to sit back and do nothing,” Chattam continued.

While Winkler and Chattam both said there has been a little bit of backlash from franchisees, it is coming exclusively from select individuals that fall into the bottom 20 percent. Those individuals desire to further their own agendas though a position on the national board. Those in the bottom 20 percent are still welcome to campaign to serve in a regional position, they said.

“I am very proud of the Board of Directors that voted positive on this issue and I think it is a huge step and statement for Choice Hotel Owners Council,” Winkler said.

Choice Hotels International, Inc. franchises more than 5,800 hotels, representing more than 475,000 rooms, in the United States and more than 30 countries and territories. Brands include Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites, MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn. In addition, through its Ascend Collection membership program, travelers in the United States and the Caribbean have upscale lodging options at historic, boutique and unique hotels.
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