HB ON THE SCENE: Knights Inn gets new identity

LAS VEGAS—As they say, out with the old and in with the new: Knights Inn is getting a makeover.

“Overall, many of the people have been positive,” said Amanda Marcello, SVP of brand strategy, RLH Corp., at the Denver-based hospitality company’s annual conference in December 2018. “They didn’t like certain things about their old logo. They didn’t like what they could and couldn’t do. They didn’t like not having a lot of resources.”

RLH Corp. closed its acquisition of the Knights Inn brand from Wyndham Hotel Group LLC in May 2018. “It’s a great footprint,” Marcello said. “They’ve got properties in locations and cities we’re not in.” As a result of the transaction, the Denver-based hotel group acquired nearly 350 franchise contracts.

Before it made any changes to Knights Inn, RLH Corp. considered the brand’s core values: convenient, simple and smart. “Those are the things we’re always looking at and saying, ‘Does this fit this brand?’” she said.

For starters, RLH Corp. revamped the Knights Inn logo. The logo will not only be used on signage and marketing materials but keycards, sticky notes and elsewhere throughout the guestroom.

Knights Inn’s new identity will be seen throughout lobby spaces. Complimentary water will be provided at check-in, “something that a guest is not expecting in the economy space,” she said.

“They’re used to getting that in maybe a high-end hotel, but the reality is this costs so little to an operator, but is such a nice hospitality gesture and welcome to a guest,” she said.

RLH Corp. is requiring its Knights Inn properties to have power outlets at the side of nightstands. “That’s going to be another area that adds some convenience that doesn’t exist now,” Marcello said. The brand is modernizing its guestroom television experience by upgrading televisions and offering premium movie channels. The hospitality company is also enhancing Knights Inn’s WiFi standards.

“We feel with modernizing the TV, improving the WiFi, having those outlets, these are the things people are going to care the most about,” Marcello said. “These are the things that they’re going to say, ‘You know what? This is easy. I’m getting great value. They’re not charging me a lot. I’m getting what I’m paying for, but here are these things I didn’t even expect they’d have.”

For the brand, the hospitality company is also working on optional programs, including military and veteran offerings. “At the very least, properties have the option to distinguish preferred parking for them,” she said. “If they want to create an area that’s the closest to the building or the closest to the rooms, we are looking at doing that, and properties will have an option to implement that.”

Over the next year or so, RLH Corp. will work on coffee and breakfast programs. The company will also look into other amenities economy guests could want in the coming years.

“We really need to balance all those things that they want with what we know we can do and what owners can afford to do,” Marcello said.

By the middle of next year, Knights Inn owners will have to convert to an RLH Corp.-approved PMS solution. The company is also implementing tokenization at the end of the first quarter in 2019.

“At the end of the day, why it matters to us is we need to be able to have a two-way visibility of what’s happening at the property,” she said. “Without those things, we can’t do more.”

It’s inevitable some owners won’t be able to meet the new standards, but RLH Corp. is doing its best to work with owners to get them up to par. “The truth of the matter is if they leave our brand and go to another brand, they’re going to have all sorts of other criteria to meet,” she said. “We always try to work with owners to provide better solutions. We know the deal. We’ve operated hotels.” While RLH Corp. will do its best to assist owners with meeting standards, owners will have to commit.

“At the end of the day, the owner has to want to go on this journey with us,” Marcello said. “We’re going to prove to them and show them why it’s important. We have a track record of doing it but, ultimately, the owner has to do what’s right for him or her at that time.”

Even though change can be hard, the brand doesn’t expect there will be a high churn rate. “I think the owner community received the change,” she said. “It was positive. There are some people that are not going to be as excited about it, but you provide options.”

Once owners see how well RLH Corp.’s brand standards are working, they’ll be more likely to share experiences with other owners.

“I think owners will speak on behalf of owners, not us,” she said. “That’s what we’ll hope to do in the next year, really just be able to show and let them be their own voice to say, ‘Yeah, I did this, and here’s how it’s going.’”

RLH Corp. has a brand advisory board, designed to help pilot and launch some of the standards sooner. “I think that’s going to help us because then they’ll be able to endorse that program from their own perspective, as somebody with the property who came from their previous parent company to us, so that will be another area where we’ll do more than just talk about it, where we help incentivize the properties to do these things and get the owner community to talk about it amongst themselves,” Marcello  said.

Currently, there are three Knights Inn new-builds in the pipeline in the U.S. “We’re looking at really exploring with those owners,” she said. “They’re really excited about the new brand. They’re very vocal about their excitement.”

There are also some conversions in the works, a couple in the U.S. and a couple in Canada.

“They’re going to implement all of the brand enhancements sooner,” she said. “That’s going to be the forefront of the brand a bit because it’s going to help us really see those things in action.” HB

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