PARSIPPANY, NJ—Since Scott King opened the first Travelodge in 1940, the brand has been witness to countless historical moments in the U.S.
“It has survived a lot of things, but nothing like the pandemic,” said John Henderson, VP of brand operations, Travelodge by Wyndham.
He reports that the brand has weathered the pandemic relatively well. “The business model of Travelodge makes it one where the operation is very stable and very streamlined,” he said. “Our locations support the first responders and the essential workers; we have seen a dip like many brands have seen, but with so many properties being exterior-corridor locations, we haven’t seen the deepest dip. Frankly, the recovery has been quicker than many of the other segments.”
What has benefited the brand is that so many of its properties are near popular outdoor spots. “It has been five months, but it seems like many years,” said Henderson. “Many families are looking to put their families in a car. Air travel is something that many aren’t quite ready to tackle yet, but they will head out on a day road trip and go explore the outdoors. Our properties are perfect for that with more than 75% of them within 50 miles of a national park, and other outdoor locations… They are taking a quick escape. We are seeing that. It is a last-minute decision. Everyone needs a change of scenery and to be able to get outside since so many of us have been quarantined in our homes and the weather has lent itself to getting out there and enjoying it before school starts up. That has been a great contributor to our coming out of that low point easier.”
The brand has strengthened its connection with nature by maintaining a partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association since 2016. “Each year we have grown into even greater initiatives,” he said. “Last year, we did about a half-dozen park cleanups throughout the country where we had owners and local volunteers help with the park cleanups.”
In the last three years, Henderson reports an uptick in interest from developers, primarily through conversions. “In 2019, we had our largest increase in properties joining the system,” he said. “We are now close to 450 properties in North America. This year, before the pandemic, we were really seeing that momentum carry. Things have slowed down a little bit, but even with the pandemic, we are getting a lot of interest from independent owners and operators who are looking for any resource that will help them get back on track sooner. Wyndham is a great option for that.”
He attributes the interest from developers to a number of factors. “One is the Travelodge name and the sustainability it has had in the economy segment,” he said. “We’ve had for the past decade over-indexing in the economy segment and the STR RevPAR index. The efficiencies that we have been able to provide our owners operationally to reduce their cost and bring more money to the bottom line has been a very important thing. Frankly, the low cost of entry to come into the brand [is a factor]. We make it very easy for owners to get into the Wyndham family through Travelodge, and we have kept those entry costs down. And with the loyalty program, there is so much upside with the membership size that we have and the direct bookings we provide.”
Henderson is very bullish on the brand’s future. “The momentum of the past three years and the amount of interest we have received from developers, both with other brands and independent properties, reinforce that,” he said. “By nature of our business model, Travelodge will come out of things sooner than other brands. That appeal to owners is right there and I know that our involvement with Wyndham Rewards and the amount of marketing that they do to even make the loyalty program work is very appealing to owners because of that direct nature of reservations. It is the relationships that we build and the grassroots approach to our properties and how we support them. Word gets out and we really try to make it easy to do business with us.”
He remains proud of the brand and what it has represented since the beginning. “It is 80 years that the brand has been part of the hospitality industry and providing accommodations for guests,” he said. “We have really kept that mantra that Scott King started back then, and that is to just create value with the clean, basic room. Our rooms will rival any brand out there, and I couldn’t be prouder of our franchisees—not only their investment into the properties, but also to the employees. During this pandemic, it is magnified by their willingness to open up their properties to really anybody and do all the extra measures that they have to do to not only make their guests feel safe and that everything is in a clean state, but also to help the employees to ensure their safety and well-being. Really, it starts with our franchisees.” HB