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Fairfield's Silver Star

Marriott’s Fairfield Inn & Suites celebrates 25 years with a new look and bold moves abroad

Monday, October 15, 2012
Jeff Heilman
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In 1987, Times Square was still the beast of Manhattan, with 40th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, running the length of the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s south side, among its meaner stretches. Memory does not serve, but if the block housed any accommodations at that time, they were fit only for those up to no good or down on their luck.

That was the year I arrived in Gotham, the same year that Marriott launched Fairfield Inn, its first entry into the value segment. Celebrating its silver anniversary this year, Fairfield Inn & Suites, so re-branded in 1997, presently has nine properties in New York City--including one at 40th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, where I overnighted last week as part of this story.

While the post-gentrified Times Square area overall barely resembles 25 years ago, this stretch of 40th Street retains a few yesteryear vestiges including a wire-grilled liquor store, a pair of XXX shops and an avoidable character or two. It’s perfectly passable now, though. Unless they were lost or foolish, tourists with big cameras and pastel-colored sweaters tied around their necks were not strolling this block in 1987. Such a group, however, trailed me into the lobby of the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Times Square this day, and joined me on the check-in line.

Once unthinkable here in Hell’s Kitchen, Fairfield--named after the Marriott family’s treasured Fairfield Farm in Hume, Va.--delivers a solidly comfortable, honest and rewarding experience that fulfills the brand’s promise of quality service and value from start to finish.

Check-in at the 33-story, 244-room property was pleasant and efficient, with smiling recognition of my Marriott Rewards membership. My room, one of four penthouse suites, was consummate for the business traveler. Readied for my arrival with thoughtful touches, it came with generous workspace, complimentary wireless and wired Internet (throughout the hotel, and fast) and two flat screen HD TVs. Plus, iron and board, safe, generous closet space, bathroom amenities including a stand-up toothbrush holder and a most comfortable bed. No more, no less, it was an environment optimized for productivity, rest and readiness.

Managed separately but accessed via one of the hotel’s three elevators, the rooftop Sky Room nightclub offers stellar midtown views and complimentary admission for hotel guests. Starbucks coffee and fresh fruit headlined the complimentary breakfast, where the throng of fellow guests was pure Fairfield: road warriors and tourists.

Busy and popular, the property yields some enviable numbers. According to Marriott sources, the property has seen upwards of 90% occupancy this year, with rack rates ranging from $200 to $300 depending on demand.

That’s great value for a high rate and demand market like New York City—and just one anecdotal measure of Fairfield’s progress over the past 25 years, which has matured from its original economy, exterior corridor concept into a solid moderate tier fixture within Marriott’s seven-category, 13-brand portfolio.

Presently counting some 700 units and more than 62,000 rooms across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the flag is surging ahead with a dynamic new design prototype and an ambitious global expansion plan.

“Our vision is to constantly push the envelope for Fairfield Inn & Suites, which has increased RevPAR by close to 40 percent since 2004 and is now established as a leader in the moderate tier category,” says Shruti Buckley, Fairfield’s Bethesda, Md.-based vice president of global brand management. “Moving forward, one strategic priority has been to dig even deeper into what we already know about the guest experience, so we can further enhance our product and service offerings.”

The brand recently commissioned a behavioral study to explore the emotions behind business travel and its impact on travelers, both personally and professionally. In May 2012, research firm TNS surveyed 1,001 frequent (more than three times a year) U.S. business travelers online. As Buckley explains, their responses to this first-of-its-kind study revealed some surprising insights.

“We found that people actually look forward to business travel, saying that the exposure to new people and cultures helps make them a better overall traveler,” Buckley says. “Traveling with one or more colleagues is also seen as a positive, with the companionship enhancing their productivity and the overall travel experience.”

Among the report’s other findings, business travelers first look for comfort (72 percent of respondents) and a good night’s rest (68 percent) when selecting hotels, followed by a “warm and inviting” environment (54 percent), helping to “accomplish business objectives” (52 percent) and “best value for money” (48 percent).

Based in part on these findings, and in celebration of its silver anniversary, Fairfield is renovating to a new Gen 4 design geared to enhancing productivity and keeping those positive guest emotions flowing.

“From brighter and livelier colors to more functional work spaces both in-room and in common areas, we are focused on maximizing the guest experience at our hotels,” Buckley says of the flexible new prototype, which recently debuted at the brand’s Hutchinson, Kan. property.

Bright and spacious, the new “smart” room features well-designed workspace that includes a curving, mobile desk, ergonomic chair, and strategically placed lighting and electrical outlets. The work area sits near the window for more natural light and views, while the bed sits closer to the middle of the room, for improved sleeping and amenity access.

In the lobby and communal areas, enhanced natural lighting, color and architectural features, as Buckley says, “break through the beige box” to create a welcoming flow-through, with flexible open spaces and movable furniture for ready social and business interactions.

Adaptable to differing budgets, boxes and footprints, Fairfield’s flexible new-build solution is scalable to the business or leisure demand of a given market. That, along with Fairfield’s efficient cost to build (which includes LEED pre-certification under the recently introduced LEED Volume Program, of which Marriott is the first hospitality industry participant) and the endorsement of Marriott, promises to speed the introduction of some 1,000 new units by 2016—including in new markets abroad.

“Our international expansion begins in India and Brazil, where we see significant market opportunity,” Buckley explains. “Each has a booming middle class that is increasingly focused on travel, but in India especially, there is a lack of quality branded mid-tier hotels,” she continues. “Choices tend to be either 5-star or family-run, with little in between, which is where we come in.”

With the first Indian property scheduled to open in Bangalore next year, followed by the first projected opening in Brazil in 2014, Fairfield is thinking globally, but acting locally. “We are carefully researching each new market to understand local tastes and preferences,” Buckley says. “In India, for example, public space and food are more important to travelers than room size, so we are adapting design and service elements accordingly.”

Buckley adds that expanding internationally creates credibility for the Fairfield brand in the U.S. “By exposing travelers in new markets to our service and quality, we are positioning Fairfield as a top of mind choice for when they travel to the U.S.,” she says.

Flexibility and innovation are Fairfield hallmarks, as the brand celebrates 25 years of adapting to changing market conditions and guest needs. “It’s full steam ahead,” Buckley says. “We have every confidence of significant demand as we continue to enhance and expand the brand.”
Jeff Heilman
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division
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