Any successful hotel company has had to pivot in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Choice Hotels International, Inc. demonstrated just that with last week’s launch of its new Comfort Inn prototype roughly a year after the company had originally planned to roll it out to owners and developers.
At a media briefing last week, Choice Hotels President and CEO Pat Pacious acknowledged the company was ready to bring the Comfort Rise and Shine prototype to market at last year’s Hunter Hotel Investment Conference in March before the pandemic hit. The decision to delay the launch of the upper-midscale brand’s new concept was “multi-faceted,” according to Pacious.
“We wanted to create a 100 percent focus on helping our owners through this [pandemic]. That was really the primary decision here, but secondarily if you look at financing for hotels during the pandemic it was unlikely somebody was going to start thinking about developing a new hotel because getting financing has really been a difficult challenge,” he said.
Pacious further added that on the vendor side of the equation the company also needed to make sure the supply chain was fully intact for potential developers to secure the right FF&E.
The CEO noted that the brand—which is celebrating its 40th anniversary—has roughly 300 hotels in its pipeline as he elaborated on why this was the right time for the launch.
“We’ve got developers and current owners who are interested now in beginning to think about building. So many of them were asking us ‘can we see the prototype? When are you going to launch it?’ We felt like now is the time for us to begin to bring that forward, not just for the market demand but also as we begin to see a vaccine rollout take effect and we begin to see consumers return to travel, particularly in the leisure and midscale segments. This really felt like the right time,” he said.
Megan Brumagim, vp, brand management, design & compliance, Choice Hotels, reinforced the timing of the launch suggesting that owner feedback indicates that the industry has “turned the corner” in terms of a potential recovery.
“Now is the time to prepare for the return of travel and the time start building for the future. That’s really why we think now is the right time to launch this prototype,” she noted.
While the company did go back to the drawing board on some aspects in the wake of the pandemic, Kade Wade, director, architecture & design, Choice Hotels, touted some of the “smart design changes” that were already planned.
“We selected furniture that was lightweight and easy to rearrange in my initial prototype, and that is a feature that owners may find useful when they build this prototype. Secondly, we had an outdoor patio on the porch baked into the prototype before the pandemic. Those features come in handy as guests seek to take advantage of the outdoors and keep their social distancing requirements,” she said.
One change Wade acknowledged following the pandemic is the company took a “second look” at its upholstery fabrics as part of an effort to get away from soft fabrics and switch over to vinyl fabrics as well as other self-cleaning options. “We really increased the proportion of easily wipeable surfaces in our upholsteries,” she said.
The first new construction Rise and Shine prototype hotels are expected to open in 2023.