Q&A with Janis Cannon, Choice Hotels International

With upscale brands serving as a major focus for Choice Hotels International Inc., Janis Cannon, who recently took on the role of SVP of upscale brands, has much on her plate. Hotel Business caught up with the 25-year industry veteran about her plans for Cambria Hotels & Suites and the Ascend Hotel Collection.

How are you settling into the new position? My team and I have really hit the ground running. I am so energized by the growth at Choice Hotels, especially with the significant commitment to and momentum of the upscale segment of the business. My goal from the beginning has been simple—draw guests’ and investors’ attention to the tremendous value and innovations going on with Cambria Hotels & Suites and the Ascend Hotel Collection. We also are continuing to escalate the pace of quality signings, groundbreakings and grand openings in key markets, particularly in city center, urban markets.

You have a long history in the industry. How will your previous roles aid in your work at Choice? Growing these brands is a top priority for the company, so I’ve joined the Choice Hotels team at a pivotal and very exciting time. While I was with IHG, I served as VP and global brand leader responsible for overseeing the company’s upscale portfolio, including developing and launching global brands and repositioning the company’s largest upscale full-service brand. That experience directly translates to my new work. 

Why did you make the decision to join Choice? Choice Hotels has a genuine commitment to upscale, our guests and our owners.  We have an urban market development strategy, which is my sweet spot and my passion, creating great hotels in great locations. Cambria Hotels & Suites and the Ascend Hotel Collection provide unique offerings that make them very competitive. This explosive growth is certainly something I want to be a part of  and help to drive.

Has there been anything that’s surprised you about Choice? I wouldn’t say surprising, but it’s remarkable to see how much of a commitment Choice Hotels has made to the success of Cambria and Ascend. As a result, Choice is being recognized as a leader in the upscale category. In many cases, our personalized guest experience is allowing our properties to operate at an even higher level moving into the upper-upscale and luxury segments. Equally as remarkable is the tremendous amount of smarts, passion and commitment on behalf of the team members who are ensuring the continued expansion of these upscale brands.

What’s your vision for each brand? We want them to be household names that stand for something original and approachable while being fresh and exciting as we expand into locations across the country and globally. We’ll work together leveraging the organization’s expertise and my broad background to further the growth of Cambria and Ascend from a revenue and customer satisfaction perspective.

At this year’s conference, President and CEO Steve Joyce said that Cambria would be Choice’s number one focus. What does that mean in the near term? What this means for Cambria is that we’re in the process of aggressively expanding the brand. In 2015, 26 deals were executed in key travel markets across the country. We’re also implementing a new conversion strategy in top urban markets that will help bring hotels to market quickly and continue to fuel growth for the brand this year. We already have more than 50 hotels in the pipeline and are nearing 20 hotels actively under construction.

Are there any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?  Cambria enjoyed a wave of grand openings and groundbreakings in 2015, including two openings in Manhattan (Times Square and Chelsea), and groundbreakings in top destinations like New Orleans and Los Angeles. We also signed new agreements to bring Cambria to Chicago (with two new properties—Magnificent Mile and River North), Downtown Philadelphia (Avenue of the Arts), Orlando, Seattle, Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA. As mentioned before, the pipeline is strong with more than 50 hotels in development, and we cannot wait to expand our footprint nationwide.

Ascend signed 37 domestic franchise agreements in 2015 and has expanded internationally to the U.K., with two new properties in Edinburgh. Currently, there are more than 200 Ascend Hotel Collection properties open and under development in locations worldwide.

What’s your take on potential threats such as Airbnb and similar companies? When you look at today’s consumer mindset, the current economy and the beginnings of a sharing economy, it is no wonder companies like Uber and Airbnb are experiencing success. While Airbnb is tapping into the behavioral shift, it lacks the ease, consistency, guest recognition/reward and personalization that travelers expect from brands like Cambria and Ascend. Choice is also leveraging the trend with the launch of Vacation Rentals by Choice Hotels. This is big business and a significant opportunity for us, giving us the ability to reach more consumers and capture more loyal customers with our powerful distribution platform.

Guests are looking for more personalized lodging options. Has there been a shift in what being a branded hotel means? Choice knows that consumer tastes and trends evolve, which is why our upscale brands offer a level of personalized experience and all of the amenities travelers are looking for. Cambria is a branded hotel yet it offers many of the same personalized services and amenities as soft brands, with a particular emphasis on being a part of the local community—from our food and beverage offerings to the art on the walls in our properties. HB

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