Microtel, the economy-scale hotel brand founded in the late 1980s by hotelier Mike Levin and now under the Wyndham Hotel Group family of brands, is in many ways one of the hotel industry’s better kept secrets. The problem is, no one really it wants it that way.
With 318 properties in the brand system and a reputation for high quality at the economy level—the brand has won J.D. Power & Associates awards for 10 straight years—the all-new construction brand is somewhat of an enigma. Fact is many people—consumers and developers—are unaware of its presence. “Our biggest challenge is that no one knows about it,” said Rui Barros, brand leader for Microtel, Travelodge, and Howard Johnson for Wyndham Hotel Group. “It’s a challenge we need to attack.”
Wyndham Hotel Group President and CEO Eric Danziger couldn’t agree more. “Microtel is still an unknown. Someone might be driving by not knowing if Microtel is, for all we know, a liquor store or a department store,” he told assembled reporters during the Wyndham Hotel Group Global Business Conference in Las Vegas this week. In fact, company officials have heard it referred to as everything from a technology company to a hardware store, many things that aren’t a hotel. “If we put ‘by Wyndham’ or if we put ‘Inn and Suites’ that provides clarity for the consumer.”
And, that is the core of perhaps the company’s biggest announcement at the conference. Microtel is now being rebranded as Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham.
Barros says the rebranding isn’t something the company entered into lightly. “We looked at the pros and cons. We didn’t take this lightly because there is a cost to owners,” he said. “But the Wyndham name carries a much better awareness.”
Danziger said he feels comfortable with the move because of the consistency and quality of the product. “I felt very comfortable associating the parent brand’s name, and that’s why we are doing it,” he said. “We listened to what people had to say about it and I responded by saying we’ll make this change.”
Along with new signage, a multi-channel marketing campaign with a streamlined and “design-focused” look is underway. All of the creative, ranging from property collateral to online advertising and television spots, highlights a single, key differentiator for the brand: that every Microtel hotel was designed and built from day one to be a Microtel hotel and nothing else.
“In launching this new campaign and adding 'by Wyndham' to the brand’s name, we expect to elevate the brand and showcase the quality that comes from being an all-new-construction chain,” Barros said.
To that end, Wyndham is reaching out to both consumers and developers. Right now, Microtel is mostly a leisure chain, but Barros believes the rebranding will help it gain more corporate travelers. “Our brand has the opportunity to capitalize more on the corporate segment,” he said. “We are going to get out there with a travel agent program as well."
In addition, Microtel will soon feature its first TV advertising spots.
As for developers, Barros thinks that adding the “by Wyndham” designation will help bring the brand into a wider offering of brand family for the development community. “It puts us in a position to compete with companies who have a broad offering,” he said.
Danziger added that the move helps better associate the brand with other brands such as Wingate by Wyndham.
Both Barros and Danziger said the company is making a financial commitment to help offset the costs for owners to change signage. The company will provide open hotels in good standing with a credit of up to $10,000 once signage is complete. All signage is expected to be updated by the end of June 2013.
In other Wyndham brand news, both Danziger and Barros discussed the soon-to-come resurgence of the iconic Howard Johnson brand. While details are still being held close to the vest by Wyndham Hotel Group, both revealed that much work on a resurgence is being done behind the scenes. Danziger allowed that the company has done its research and is at the stage where it is starting to develop prototypes and plans.
One aspect that became apparent is that a new branding and look for Howard Johnson is likely to play off its iconic status as a piece of Americana, as well as the brand’s own history. There are currently about 300 Howard Johnson hotels open.
Also, Travelodge unveiled its new marketing campaign centered on the “reawakening” of its mascot, “Sleepy Bear,” which has a new look. “It’s sort of based on the type of characters you’d see in a CGI type movie,” Barros said. “That’s in case we decide to animate it later.”