PARSIPPANY, NJ—In its largest refresh in more than 25 years, Howard Johnson is redesigning its guestrooms with hints to the past and innovations for the future.
“It’s a whole new HoJo,” said Clem Bence, brand leader/VP of operations for Howard Johnson by Wyndham.
More than 70% of properties in the U.S. and Canada have fully adopted, or have begun to adopt, the new retro rooms. According to Bence, the majority of HoJo properties will have completed renovations by next summer.
“HoJo is one of those brands that when you say its name, people can’t help but smile and think of the memories they’ve made with us over the years. That’s a tremendous asset and something we believe brings value to the brand in a way that others can’t emulate,” Bence said.
The guestrooms will still offer everything hotel guests have come to expect—like flat-screen TVs and places to plug in—but the refresh does so in a way that brings the old Howard Johnson back to life.
With its mid-century modern design, the rooms offer a distinct juxtaposition between a HoJo from the past with technologies that are on par with what today’s travelers need.
“We wanted this design to do more than just please the eye; we wanted it to spark conversation and delight among our multigenerational guests, thoughtfully marrying the old with the new,” Bence said. “The result is a familiar, nostalgic experience that at the same time is both elevated and entirely new.”
Custom, abstract art hangs from the guestroom walls depicting classic Americana. “[The wall art is] more than just a custom abstract piece; it features the iconic roofline of the HoJo gate lodge, which was a visual calling card of sorts for the brand back in the day,” Bence said.
Bence added that hotels are required to showcase one piece of vintage HoJo artwork in each property’s public space, of which the properties have three options to choose from.
“All other items, including furniture, carpeting and other fixtures, may be updated and renovated as needed, depending on each hotel’s individual circumstances and needs,” he said.
Additionally, in the rooms, bed scarves and accent walls highlight the room with HoJo’s signature orange and turquoise colors, another hint at the brand’s history.
Possibly the strongest sign of the contrasts between old and new are the mid-century-inspired marshmallow wall mirrors (inspired by George Nelson’s iconic Marshmallow Loveseat of the mid-1950s, Bence said) hung above the desk and near bedside lamps with built-in USB and charging outlets.
“In designing our new rooms, we wanted to ensure we were doing more than just meeting the needs of the modern traveler; we wanted to make sure that we’re paying tribute to our storied past, enabling our hotels and their owners to not only capitalize on, but continue to grow, the tremendous affinity that exists for our brand,” Bence said.
The idea is to appeal to all guests across the brand—through both design and amenities—spanning generations and travel intentions.
“Howard Johnson is primarily a leisure brand; however, depending on the hotel and market, we certainly have a significant number of business travelers staying with us, too,” Bence said. “What’s great about the new room and its design is its multigenerational appeal. So, while millennials and younger travelers are a key focus demographic, the rooms play equally well with our older guests.”
For HoJo, although the tech is cool and the design is wistful, the brand is set on keeping the guest experience consistent across all properties, which the new design fosters.
“Our focus with the new look is really about creating a new level of consistency that’s historically uncommon in the economy space while elevating the overall guest experience. As such, it’s less about adding trendy amenities and tech—all of which can be costly from an owner perspective and often with an unproven return—and instead, ensuring our owners are investing in the things that make the highest impact on guests—a great sleep experience, great WiFi and so on,” Bence explained.
The executive said that the reason for a guestroom refresh, specifically, is because he believes the guestroom to be the most pivotal piece to any hotel experience. However, the character and the essence of the brand run throughout all areas of the property, from the color schemes to the lobby art package.
To celebrate the refresh, HoJo hosted a pop-up room event in New York City last month, showcasing the new guestrooms through something quite sweet: a room model made entirely out of candy (see video at hotelbusiness.com).
“This is the biggest thing our brand has done in more than 25 years, and we wanted to celebrate in a way that was both fun and memorable—because that’s who we are—while putting a spotlight on the brand,” Bence said. “Not only has a hotel room made out of candy never been done before, it’s also the perfect creative vessel for us to share our vision for Howard Johnson’s future while helping families create some amazing memories before the end of summer slips away.” HB
Check out our video interviews at video.hotelbusiness.com