Janis Cannon, Choice Hotels International Inc.

With all eyes on upscale’s pipeline next year, Rockville, MD-based Choice Hotels International Inc. is continuing its aggressive growth plans for its upscale brands.

When asked why she entered hospitality, Janis Cannon, who helms Choice’s upscale brands, responded, “I think it was kind of in my DNA.” Her father was in the military, so her family moved around quite a bit when she was younger. In some ways, this experience prepared her for a lifetime working in the hospitality business.

“There was always this wonderful opportunity to really immerse yourself in a new culture and meet new people—really be able to stretch yourself—and so the hospitality industry provides a lot of that opportunity,” she said.

She began her career in hospitality in 1981; she served as a regional representative at the Georgia Department of Industry and Trade. She eventually found her way to Swissotel, where she worked in various corporate-level positions, before serving as the deputy commissioner of Tourism for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“The great thing that government taught me is the importance of grassroots and advocacy,” Cannon said. “It’s really important to listen very carefully to the needs of the constituency, and then align on what the agenda is going to be for growth and what your priorities are going to be; this way, you have aligned priorities—that really is the catalyst for growth.”

Before joining the Choice team in April 2016, Cannon, a 25-year industry veteran, served as VP and global brand leader for IHG’s upscale portfolio, where she developed and launched global brands for the hospitality group.

The move to her current role came at a time when Choice was making its intentions in the upscale segment known. Cambria Hotels & Suites had either opened or broke ground in major markets, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New York. To continue the brand’s momentum and poise the Ascend Hotel Collection brand for additional growth, Choice turned to Cannon, appointing her to SVP of upscale brands.

At the time, Choice had been known for its presence in midscale and economy, but its apparent dedication to upscale offered her something new: the opportunity to build out a category.

“Choice was making a real commitment—and has made a real commitment—both financially, and, more importantly, emotionally, in the sense that upscale is one of the top corporate objectives as it relates to our overall growth and long-range plan,” she said.

Now leading Choice’s upscale efforts, Cannon has been putting up record-breaking numbers for both brands under her domain. The company executed 24 new domestic franchise agreements during Q3 for its upscale brands, a 71% increase from the same period of the prior year. Her accomplishments in Choice’s upscale portfolio haven’t gone unnoticed, with President/CEO Pat Pacious directly attributing the upscale brands’ rapid growth to Cannon’s vision and leadership.

Thirteen hotels joined the Ascend portfolio in October alone. More recently, The Volaré, a 73-room property, in San Clemente, CA, became part of the soft brand’s collection, which now has more than 190 properties worldwide. Choice this year is expected to open 45 Ascend properties in the U.S.

Cannon attributes some of this success to working with owners. For example, Choice runs an advisory council for Ascend property owners.  

“We’re constantly working with our owners to understand how to enrich the value proposition of the Ascend collection,” she said. “What’s going to be most meaningful for them? What are the things that are going to provide them the greatest opportunities for growth?”

The company also provides Ascend property owners with a Choice-driven toolkit, which offers the following benefits: distribution platforms, a sales organization and a loyalty program.   

Cambria is expected to finish 2017 with the most property openings in a single year in the brand’s history. “We’re on track to open more than 10 next year because we’ve got 16 projects that are actively under construction,” Cannon said. The brand now has 32 open hotels in the U.S.

The brand this year opened properties in key regions of the country, including Los Angeles, Cambria’s first property on the West Coast; the Chicago Loop-Theatre District; Newport, RI; and New Orleans.

“On the new unit growth side, we’re having the best year we’ve ever had,” she said. “We do expect that to continue. There’s really strong momentum for Cambria. Our hotels are performing and ranking extremely well against pretty tough competitive sets. Owners, potential developers and the capital markets are all really paying close attention, so we anticipate a really good year for Cambria next year.”

Another reason for Cambria’s growth is that Choice has committed to applying its balance sheet to the brand. “We’re investing about $475 million into the Cambria brand,” Cannon said. “We are solidifying Choice as a serious player in the upscale space.” HB

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