Gaining a presence in the resilient extended-stay market for the first time, a master branding effort emphasizing the Red Lion name and a revamped more consumer friendly website were among the highlights of the RLH Corporation virtual conference taking place earlier this week.
The Denver-based franchise company—which includes eight brands, such as Red Lion Hotels, Hotel RL and Americas Best Value Inn, and some 1,300 properties—also unveiled a restructured development and marketing approach.
RLH Corporation revealed the relaunch of its GuestHouse International brand, which was acquired in 2015, to GuestHouse Extended Stay. John Russell, CEO, RLH Corporation, explained that while the company’s brand lineup covered every segment from budget to upscale boutique there was still an obvious gap for a company focused on repositionings.
“The one category that we weren’t in was extended stay. We thought that being a conversion brand there’s a lot of opportunities out there to convert some older properties with bigger rooms. We saw a resurgence of extended-stay so we thought this was right time to come out with it,” he said.
The upper-economy concept will feature streamlined housekeeping services, community-centric guest amenities, and right-sized brand standards designed to maximize owner return on investment, according to the company. In addition, the properties will include a minimum of 10 percent of rooms with full kitchenettes with the remaining guestrooms having modified mini kitchenettes. The company maintains that this makes conversions possible for virtually all types of properties.
Harry Sladich, EVP of lodging development & franchise operations, noted RLH Corporation had been moving forward with plans for an extended-stay product prior to the pandemic hitting in March when it had to put them on hold. In fact, he noted the extended-stay strategy goes back even further and complements the company’s Signature Inn brand relaunch from a few years ago.
“This was not opportunistic, this was strategic. We had a plan for exterior corridors and we have a plan for extended-stay and the conversions. Everything we went about in the way we thought about it, the way we designed it and the way we looked at it was based on conversions,” he said, later adding “we didn’t think there was a good conversion brand for this [segment].”
Sladich noted the new GuestHouse Extended Stay concept already has some 21 properties, six of which are actually new builds, in the pipeline in areas such as southeast Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Washington.
In addition to touting low flat fees for owners, he provided some color on the new brand. “We are going to stay true to celebrating the lobby the way it is, the exterior of the property and really focus on touchpoints inside the room that reflect the extended stay,” he said.
Sladich pointed out the company hadn’t done much with the GuestHouse brand since acquiring it, but added “we loved the name and felt that name was really in line with extended stay.” He added that the existing 18 GuestHouse properties will have the opportunity to convert to the extended-stay product if they so choose.
Meanwhile, Russell elaborated on what the company refers to as the “red thread,” a master branding effort to tag each of the company’s eight flags with the “by Red Lion” descriptor. The initiative will be implemented in 2021.
“We’re under the banner RLHC, but we never really use the power of the Red Lion. Back in the day Red Lion was very well known, particularly in the Pacific Northwest and west of the Mississippi. For some reason we got away from it. I think there’s an opportunity so all of our brands will be tied with what we call the ‘big red thread.’ We think it helps us exponentially grow our brand,” he said.
The company also revamped its website to make it more user friendly, according to Russell, who noted the site now has separate landing pages for each of its brands.
“We made it a lot more navigatable for the consumer and easier to book,” he said, adding the new site will have a soft launch this month with a full launch expected by the end of the year.
Russell also detailed a revamped marketing program, which is being led by new chief marketing officer Chris Trick, who joined the company roughly a month ago after what was termed an “exhaustive search.”
Russell added of Trick, “he’s already hit the ground running…I think you’re going to see some exciting things come out over the next several months as it relates to the marketing approach.”
He noted the company is spending some 28 to 30 percent more dollars in marketing on a variety of mediums ranging from digital to billboards and radio and TV spots, as well as event promotions to “create more brand awareness.”
The company has also shifted its strategy with regards to development, according to Sladich, who spoke specifically about its boutique Signature Inn brand and some “aggressive goals for us in 2021.”
He added, “We’ve just become a lot more clear on where we want to be and then figuring out how we’re going to get there. I think that’s a lot different than in the past where it was just a matter of numbers. Now it needs to be more strategic as we grow the brand because I need them in certain markets so that I can leverage that to grow the brand even further.”
Russell underscored the point noting that’s the goal for the company’s entire portfolio, which he noted is primarily in secondary and tertiary cities. The CEO emphasized the need to be in gateway cities or top 25 MSAs with “accessibility to density.” He specifically referenced Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and Dallas.