by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | May 01, 2007

Today’s business model holds that the brand is supreme, and nowhere is this maxim more applicable than in the hospitality industry. “The hotel companies have done their research. They know consumer expectation has increased,” says Bjorn Hanson, global hospitality leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. “And as a result of the accelerating demand, the major brands are offering more options in terms of facilities and services.”

Indeed, the jockeying for position among brands vying for consumer attention -- and loyalty -- has intensified to an all-out frenzy. Hotel chains are revamping their properties, bringing in big-name chefs, and rolling out signature spas and cutting-edge technology in an effort to increase market share.

To shed light on the unfolding battle of the brands, M&C asked senior executives at six major chains -- representing Embassy Suites, Four Points by Sheraton, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Regent Hotels & Resorts, Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts -- for insight into how they are reinvigorating their product and what it means to planners. What follows is a focus on the burgeoning upscale segment and an advance look at new brands.

The Embassy Suites New York


Airy atrium:
The Embassy Suites
New York

Embassy Suites 
186 in the United States, Canada and Latin America
Opening in 2007: Anchorage, Alaska; Fort Worth, Texas; Valencia, Calif.; Lima, Peru; Montreal
In the pipeline: Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; New Orleans; Valencia, Venezuela

In an industry where every player takes great pains to point out just how trendy and cutting edge it is, Embassy Suites is a breath of fresh air. “We don’t own sophistication, and we are not edgy,” says John Lee, vice president of marketing for the brand, part of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels Corp. “Our brand personality is warm, easy to do business with and fun. That’s what separates us from other chains.”

When the inaugural Embassy Suites property opened back in 1984, it became the industry’s first upscale, all-suite hotel brand. Today, Embassy Suites has grown beyond its suburban roots and is bent on upping its profile, and Hilton has put enough muscle behind the brand -- nearly $600 million in capital improvements -- to catapult it into the major leagues.

In the past four years, Embassy Suites has moved into major downtown districts in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., with plans to extend beyond U.S. borders. “Our near-term focus is creating critical mass in Canada, Mexico, and South and Central America,” says Lee, who adds there are 28 hotels in the pipeline. “As a brand,” he notes, “we want to have 300 hotels by 2010.”

According to Lee, Embassy Suites is targeting the business traveler and meetings of 250 or fewer. “This is a group size that, if they go to a larger convention hotel with a ton of meeting space, they don’t feel that important,” he says. “At an Embassy Suites, though, they probably are the only in-house meeting, and they get full management attention.”

The brand’s signature feature always has been its singular glass atrium, filled with lots of leafy, green plants, running water and natural light. A slew of new offerings are part of Embassy Suites’ revamped brand standards, which include complimentary high-speed Internet access, a 24-hour fitness center, a daily newspaper, an in-room coffee brewer, complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast and, brand new to the roster, the
upscale Bloom body-care product line as a standard in-room amenity. And then there are the added touches, such as the nightly manager’s reception, a concept widely practiced by boutique brands such as San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels.

Embassy Suites also is betting its front-line employees will make an impression. “The hotel uniform hasn’t changed in 75 years,” notes Lee. “We thought it was time to brand ours. It’s our way of standing out in a category we created, where we believe we are still the only player.”