Considering that the hotel was reopening with a new flag, it was important to the Newport Group that, as part of the conversion, the look and feel of the hotel change from what the local community remembered, starting with the entranceway and lobby. “When guests walked in, we wanted them to know they were getting a very different experience than they were used to,” Matfess says.
As the work proceeded, timing became an issue. “We were committed to opening June 1 in time for the summer season,” Matfess explains. “DoubleTree assigned an operations point person to the project through the opening. Teams were assigned to different parts of the work, including getting OnQ, Hilton’s technology platform, up and running. Coordinating everyone’s efforts was critical.”
Introducing a well-known brand into a market can be a marketing advantage. When Shamin Hotels recently acquired the 237-room, 1970s-era former Holiday Inn Koger Center in Richmond, Va., the plan from the outset was to change flags. Following a $6 million investment, the hotel re-emerged as the DoubleTree by Hilton Richmond-Midlothian in July.
“We viewed DoubleTree as a strong brand, more upscale than Holiday Inn, that has large distribution though none in this area,” says Sarah Garcia, Shamin’s VP of sales, adding that the previous owners had completed a renovation in 2012 that met a number of DoubleTree’s standards for the conversion.
Given that her responsibility was sales, Garcia was concerned how clients, particularly group clients, would perceive the flag change. The hotel features 26,000 square feet of meeting space, so group is a significant component of the sales and marketing strategy.
“So far, the name change hasn’t been an issue. We communicated the news to our clients early on and updated them regularly. As we spread the word, everyone has reacted positively,” Garcia says, adding that the Hilton Honors frequency program has been a part of the positive response.
Another factor in the choice of DoubleTree was that it is part of Hilton Worldwide, seeing that Chester, Va.–based Shamin Hotels already had the 254-room Richmond Hilton Hotel and Spa Short Pump in its portfolio. “The Hilton also has ample meeting space and is on the other side of Richmond. So we can now refer group clients back and forth,” Garcia says. “We never had that kind of freedom before.”
There’s a reasonable amount of flexibility built into the conversion process, concludes DoubleTree’s Greenleaf. “Clearly, we don’t want to do anything that is going to damage the equity in our brand or create a guest experience we don’t think would be favorable,” he says. “We have our eye on both of these, plus the success the owner would like to have.” He expects conversions to be part of the brand’s long-term growth strategy in the United States. “Unit growth is important, and with the ‘by Hilton’ sub-brand, we’re building name recognition and visibility for Hilton Worldwide as well.”
In the case of the Atlantic Beach Oceanfront, the community felt the economic impact of losing its only full-service beachfront hotel for nearly two years. Though the DoubleTree property has been only open since June, the Newport Group’s Matfess says the signs of success are there. “The local community is excited to have what they see as a new hotel in their community.”