Choice opts for Caribbean destinations

BY NEKIESHA REID Business reporter

Friday, July 27, 2012    

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CHOICE Hotels International has identified the Caribbean as a "priority area for expansion" and will invest in the region in coming years.

The hospitality chain already has eight Caribbean franchises in the Bahamas, Grand Cayman, Curacao and Puerto Rico but wants to expand more since "[the Caribbean] is the number one destination requested by guests".

Although the Maryland-based company has over 6,000 locations worldwide, its chief executive officer, Stephen Joyce, said Choice still has room to grow.

"Clearly our path for significant growth is internationally," he said. "But the Caribbean is one of our primary targets because we view the region as an extension of what we're doing domestically".

It's ability to "drive customers into the Caribbean market" would directly benefit the region, the company said. The chain books "millions of room-nights a year".

"The Caribbean is a value that's not being communicated well to the rank and file customer out there," Joyce said, adding that more Choice-branded hotels would significantly boost promotion to the region.

"More options in the Caribbean would be advantageous for loyal Choice Hotels guests," he said, "but the region [also] needs it".

"It's a good combination because we're able to get our customers to the places they love and help out a lot of hotel owners at the same time," he said.

Among its brands are Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Clarion Hotels, and Sleep Inn. It earns in excess of US$600 million ($53 billion) each year from its franchises.

Smaller properties, with 40 to 50 rooms, are the company's specialty, Joyce said.

Choice's interest in the small hotel sector is significant since it comes with international marketing reach, said Evelyn Smith, the president of the Jamica Hotel and Tourism Association.

But some small hotels may be better placed than others to join an international brand, since they may have to make fewer changes to meet the chain's standards.

"We see the need and desire for smaller properties to move to a branded concept," Joyce said, adding that it's "good long-term proposition" for the brand to tap into the allure of small hotels.

Choice has projects under developments in Haiti, Dominica and Anguilla, with negotiations to award a franchise in St Maarten in the final stages.



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