In the hospitality space, brands are everything, and Wyndham's investment in its 16 brands is one that was definitely needed, especially in the economy space. If the popularity and brand loyalty of lower-cost airline carriers like JetBlue or Virgin America have shown, it's that economy and midscale brands can successfully enter the lifestyle space, too.
Wyndham Hotel Group is reinventing itself with a brand-new repositioning of all of its 16 economy, midscale, and upscale brands, designed to appeal to all travelers, regardless of their budgets.
With the new repositioning, familiar brands will take on new slogans. Super 8 will be marketed as “An American Road Original,” while Travelodge is “Your Basecamp for Adventure,” and Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham will be marketed as “Brilliantly Efficient.” The campaign is set to start rolling out in the summer and into the fall.
With this transformation to “democratize travel,” Wyndham hopes to appeal more to both the middle class and to millennials. Beginning as early as this summer, each of Wyndham’s nearly 8,000 hotels around the world will undergo various refreshments and redesigns, from new interiors and marketing campaigns to new guest perks.
“We asked ourselves, what can we do to bring life to all of these brands?,” said Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group. “We believe that upscale and luxury hotels and, to some degree, mid-scale and economy hotels have done a very good job of delivering the fundamentals of experiential design and lifestyle experience. But we have never done it in a big way in the midscale and economy space. Where this industry is growing is in the economy and mid-scale space.”
It’s also a response to the rise of the global middle class, which is expected to more than double from 2 billion to 4.9 billion over the next 10 years, and to the growing travel and tourism industry, which is expected to rise from $7.2 trillion to $11 trillion by 2026.
This is something many other hotel companies are watching, too. Hotel CEOs speaking at the NYU Hospitality Conference on June 6 remarked on the incredible global growth of the middle class worldwide, saying, like Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, that “This is the golden age of travel.” Sorenson later added, “There are new members of the middle class around the world who want to travel. Young people in the U.S. are more interested in collecting experiences than cars and houses.”
The power of brands is something not lost on Wyndham, either. “Brands are incredibly important, and brands resonate,” said Ballotti. “What we’re doing is very big. It’s very audacious. It’s very aggressive.”
How It All Came Together
Wyndham also commissioned an 18-month-long study worth an estimated six-figure investment, examining 50 recognized hotel brands and the primary decision makers for thousands of business and leisure travelers around the world. It partnered with Siegel+Gale, a brand strategy and experience firm, to better understand guests’ preferences, priorities, and design brand experiences as they relate to midscale and economy hotel stays.
What Wyndham discovered from the research was that there is no “one size fits all” approach that works for hospitality, especially in the economy space, and that there’s more importance to having a great experience over status. It also showed that Millennials are just as receptive to brands and loyalty and experience as everyone else. Using the insights gathered from the studies of each brand, Wyndham worked to develop detailed, distinct strategies for each and every one.
And borrowing a page from some other hospitality companies (notably, Starwood comes to mind), Wyndham restructured its leadership for each brand, appointing a dedicated brand leader for each one, as well as making key hiring decisions, like bringing on veteran former JetBlue marketing executive Lisa Checchio as its new VP of brand marketing in September 2015.
“We’re bringing in people from industries that know that lifestyle consumer experience resonates,” said Ballotti.
Checchio said the extensive brand research showed, ultimately, that “Guests want satisfaction. They want to feel value for what they are getting. They want personality in economy.”
Travelodge & Super 8’s New Brand Personalities
For the brand repositioning of Travelodge, Wyndham capitalized on the fact that half of its Travelodge portfolio is within 20 miles of a U.S. National Park. With record visitor arrivals to the national parks (300 million last year alone) and this being the centennial of the National Parks System in the U.S., the company felt this was a perfect time to market Travelodge as a “basecamp for adventure.”
Checchio said that to build on this messaging, Wyndham formed a partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association to show that Travelodge is a “brand that energizes adventure” and that Wyndham is also giving back to the national parks system. That partnership will be advertised in the window of every Travelodge property. “Do not disturb” signs will read, “Getting ready for my next adventure.” Staff members will wear pins that say “My favorite national park is _____.” The properties will also offer a grab-and-go breakfast to guests that’s park-approved so they can be on their way to exploring the nearby parks.
“For Super 8, it’s all about the journey,” said Checchio. “It’s important to note that we are elevating ‘economy’ with this brand — it’s not your grandfather’s Super 8.” We’ve already gotten a glimpse into Super 8’s new brand positioning with its irreverent, tongue-in-cheek art show in May, where it asked its owners to donate old pieces of hotel art to be given away. The investment on the part of Super 8 owners to help reposition the brand will total some $103 million by the end of this year.
And the Wyndham team has plenty more ideas for how to refresh the brand, not limited to offering a signature Super 8 midnight snack for guests who check in late after spending all day out on the road. “What if we had something special at night, or partnered with, say Campbell’s Soup Co. and had a ‘Soup-er 8?'” said Checchio. Other ideas developed by the marketing team include trucker–approved recommendations of the best roadside experiences like the best places to eat or go sightseeing. Or, for every 888th guest who checks in, that guest will only be charged $8.88 — the same rate that the very first Super 8 offered back in 1974 in Aberdeen, South Dakota. With all of these ideas, said Checchio, “We are asking what do our guests need from us? What’s memorable? How can we make it operation-able?”
A Truly Global Undertaking
This new global strategy is an extension of Wyndham’s earlier work to revamp its loyalty program, making it simpler and easier for rewards members to earn and redeem points for free nights. Last month, one year after debuting the new Wyndham Rewards program, the company debuted new features that included branded experiences and membership levels.
Additionally, the company is investing in other aspects of its business, in addition to repositioning the brands.
Wyndham is also upgrading its backend technology. Each month, more than 300 hotels in Wyndham’s portfolio are converting to its new cloud-based management system, and those that have adopted the new tech are seeing increases in their revenue per available room.
The company is also cleaning house when it comes to properties that don’t meet brand standards. Over the past two years, the company has also removed a number of hotels that did not meet brand standards, and it has added 650 new builds to its pipeline.
“We’ve been very focused over the last three years on the consistency of our quality,” said Ballotti. “We opened more hotels than any hotel company on the planet — two hotels every day, 65,000 rooms last year. We parted ways with 90% of those rooms in 2015 that did meet our quality promises. We know our brands are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.” After doing that, Ballotti said Wyndham saw improved consistency levels and rising customer satisfaction.
The company is also working closely with its hotel owners to make sure the global repositioning of each brand goes smoothly. “The owners are all in. The investments are really being made by the owners.”
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Photo credit: As part of its global brand repositioning, Wyndham developed new slogans for each of its 16 brands, including Travelodge and Super 8. Wyndham Hotel Group