- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

Choice Hotels International Inc. is boosting its boutique hotel business by rebranding its Clarion Collection as the “Ascend Collection” with a more upscale logo and more independence for the hotel owners, the company announced at its annual gathering of franchisees this month.

The Silver Spring hotel company is changing the Clarion Collection from a “brand” to an “affiliation program.” The move essentially gives hotel owners more freedom to control the details of their properties, but keeps them connected to Choice’s international reservation system.

Typically, branded hotels are required to maintain their brand’s standards or rules on items such as bedding or decor. An affiliated hotel can have the freedom to choose its own elements while keeping Choice’s seal of approval.

The 39 properties in the U.S., Canadian and Caribbean Clarion Collection will get the Ascend logo in the second half of this year, according to spokeswoman Heather Soule. The Clarion Collection in Europe will not be changed.

The change is designed to give the Ascend properties more freedom and a more upscale feel. It’s also intended to provide better clarity between the Clarion brand hotels and the Clarion Collection, which is the boutique chain, Ms. Soule said.

“It’s a great way to maintain the historic or boutique hotel and their own identity, but be part of a company,” she said.

Many of the major hotel chains are hoping to expand their boutique hotels — those in historic buildings or unique spaces that typically have decor that reflects the local culture or city.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide has the W hotels brand, with 18 U.S. locations. Marriott International recently announced it is working with designer Ian Schrager to create 100 boutique hotels under the name “Edition.”

InterContinental Hotels Group PLC founded its boutique hotel group, Hotel Indigo, in October 2004. The hotels are intended to have unique or quirky features such as local art in the lobby and guestroom decor and slipcovers that change with the seasons.

When individual hotel owners have a corporation take care of office work, they have more time to focus on the details customers see.

“There’s a lot more opportunities for innovation,” Stevan Porter, president of the Americas division of InterContinental, added while in Washington last month. “I think we’re going to see a lot more of this trend.”

U.S. dollar sale

The number of foreign visitors to the United States reached a record in February, according to the latest figures released last week from the Department of Commerce. About 3.3 million international visitors traveled to the United States that month, representing a 15 percent increase over last February. Overseas arrivals — which excludes Canada and Mexico — rose 11 percent over last year.

Despite the increase, the travel industry is pushing for legislation that would authorize a U.S. tourism campaign funded by the industry. The Travel Industry Association trade group said last week that it has gathered the support of 200 House members and 42 senators.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Send news to Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn @washingtontimes.com.



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