HOTELS report from Las Vegas: Wyndham reveals HoJo, Asia plans

An update on the Wyndham Worldwide Corp., Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey, brand refresh of Howard Johnson, which has been largely kept under wraps, was revealed at the 2012 Wyndham Hotel Group Global Conference being held this week in Las Vegas.

At a Tuesday press conference, Wyndham Hotels Group CEO Eric Danziger said that Wyndham is now creating a new prototype for Howard Johnson after spending the past year engaging HoJo owners, employees and customers with help from an outside agency — Wyndham hired marketing firm Hornall Anderson in August 2011 to work on the HoJo refresh.

“We will now move to the phase of creating a prototype and testing it out. We know what the consumer research told us,” said Danziger. “Because it is very Americana, this brand, whatever we do with it, should be modern, forward-looking but very inclusive with its past and that’s what it will be … I’m not trying to create a new Howard Johnson, I want to Howard Johnson to be what it used to be.”

Expanding on Wyndham’s brand development plans, Danziger said that although the company always has brand ideas under development, Wyndham will avoid trying to create the next new trend in hotels.

“I hope there is not a lot of new and different created for awhile,” said Danziger. “People confuse innovation with invention. The iPhone is an innovation but not an invention. The telephone is an invention.”

At the conference Wyndham also gave more details on the rebranding of its economy brand Microtel to Microtel by Wyndham, which was first revealed in February.

The primary rationale behind the move was to increase awareness of the brand as being part of the Wyndham family, especially among business travelers.

“The level of awareness of that brand isn’t as high as we hoped. In the business segment, we are definitely underleveraged against our competitors. We see ourselves as an economy brand, but we look to steal share from midscale such as Hampton or Holiday Inn Express. You have to increase awareness among corporate travelers, that’s a big chunk of that,” said Rui Barros, Wyndham Hotel Group’s brand senior vice president for Microtel by Wyndham, Travelodge and Howard Johnson in a Monday interview.

To help franchisees with the cost of the new signage, Wyndham is offering a US$10,000 credit to qualifying properties, with one of the requirements being that the new signing is installed by June 2013.

“There were a few outliers that look at it more as a cost, but the lion’s share of our franchisees say this is something they’ve been looking for,” said Barros.

Asia Pacific expansion plans, direct booking

Like the other large hotel companies, Wyndham prioritizes expansion in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in China. At the conference the company announced the appointment of a new managing director for Asia Pacific, Frank Trampert, who will be featured in a HOTELS Interview article on Friday. Wyndham has grown exponentially in Asia Pacific, up to nearly 500 hotels there from only 51 four years ago. Wyndham is looking to grow in the region via managed properties for its midscale and upscale properties instead of franchising so that its hotels there are run with sufficient expertise.

“Most Wyndhams and Ramadas, although not all, are managed,” said Danziger. “Those kinds of property are fairly new to the Chinese owner, they don’t have the depth of experience in running them.”

At the conference Wyndham also announced a new online review monitoring tool for franchisees and a rate and inventory management tool for franchisees as well as the launch of mobile sites and mobile apps for its brands to be released later this year.

Despite recent controversy about false reviews, Wyndham is also integrating TripAdvisor on its brand websites to allow customers to read reviews on their properties without leaving the website, which Wyndham predicts will increase direct booking. This was piloted on the Wyndham Rewards website and caused visits and bookings to increase.

“We chose TripAdvisor because the consumer has already voted that they choose TripAdvisor,” said Flo Lugli, executive vice president of marketing, Wyndham Hotel Group, at a press conference on Tuesday. “Going with a brand consumers trust rather than trying to create our own review system was a strategy we chose.”