While the theme “Ignite the Future” carried through much of the 60th annual Choice Hotel International Convention (and the company’s 75th anniversary), the business session opened with a nod to the past—the very beginnings of Choice, as its founder, Stewart Bainum Sr., died in February at age 94.
“His vision and entrepreneurial spirit made it possible for thousands of families, your families, to fulfill the dream of running a successful hotel business,” Steve Joyce, president and chief executive officer, told the crowd at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. “In many ways, his story is your story. He truly touched us all. His advice and support—even after he retired—continued to make us smarter and more innovative, customer focused, and community minded.”
In his opening remarks, Joyce looked back at some of the company’s accomplishments in the industry, including the first 24-hour toll-free reservations, first segmentation strategy, first non-smoking rooms, and first website with real-time rates and availability.
He also described some of the more recent milestones:
* For the third year in a row, the company drove $1 billion in revenue through Choicehotels.com, which received 160 million visits in 2013—up 16 percent from 2012. (A website refresh is planned for next year.)
* In 2013, Choicehotels.com received 60 million visits from guests using mobile devices—up 75 percent from 2012.
* Choice’s loyalty program will hit 20 million members worldwide in June.
“With 75 years under our belts, we are seasoned enough to draw on decades of experience and expertise,” Joyce said. “And at the same time, we are smart enough to be adaptable and agile. This is a terrific time to celebrate the Choice legacy that was sparked 75 years ago, but it’s even a better time to set our sights on tomorrow. Now is the time to turn up the heat on your competitors, to kindle the flames of loyalty with every guest experience, and to fire up all the Choice processes, programs, training, and tools we developed to help you ignite operations, revenue, profits, and growth.”
Choice’s Chief Operating Officer Pat Pacious followed Joyce by detailing some other company achievements. This year, central reservation system (CRS) revenue is up 15 percent. “Just last week we hit the $1 billion mark in worldwide CRS revenue,” he said at the mid-May meeting. “That’s the fastest we’ve ever hit $1 billion in a given year.” Also, advanced bookings for this summer are already 11 percent ahead of 2013.
“What’s driving this?” he asked the crowd of approximately 6,000 people. “The tools we’ve put in place.”
People will rally around anything that makes life easier, said Pacious, noting that mobile now contributes to almost 20 percent of Choicehotels.com revenue. Last year, the company launched RapidBook, a feature that simplifies the search-and-booking process through mobile devices, much like Amazon’s 1-click ordering.
On the horizon is the hands-free hotel search Connected Car option for Ford vehicles, which will make booking on the go simpler and safer for guests, he said.
“The way to predict the future is to create the future,” Pacious said. “We’re targeting your guests with the messages they want on the devices they use.”
But just as technology evolves, so does a company’s brand message. “Your brand is a powerful thing,” said Anne Smith, vice president for brand strategy, following Pacious. “It defines you and says, ‘This is who I am.’ Consumers connect with brands to simplify their purchasing decisions. In essence, your brand is a shortcut to what they want.”
However, it takes more than a well-designed logo to lock up a sale. In addition, brands can’t just compete on value and price alone, Smith said. “(By doing that), it’s a race to the bottom. It encourages disloyalty. It makes it easy for guests to switch and book somewhere else. Loyalty is delivered not on just value but on deeper, more emotional benefits.”
As such, Choice plans to put the guest at the center of its strategy, taking “a deep dive” into more data and customer-focused analysis than ever before, she explained.
“We’re looking at not just what people value in a hotel experience but what they care about, where they spend their time, and how they see themselves,” Smith said. “We’re using those insights to build a stronger, more emotional connection to guests and their stories.”