Hampton Inn rolls out 'Make it Hampton' plan


WASHINGTON -- Hampton Inn launched a $100 million program that will add products and services to the chain by the end of 2005, as part of an effort to draw a greater distinction between itself and competing brands.

Hampton Inn, which rolled out the "Make it Hampton" program at a recent franchisor meeting in New Orleans, is calling the effort the "single largest and fastest transformation ever undertaken by a hotel brand."

The program will impact everything from the look of the properties to the background music in the lobby, the continental breakfast and even the guest-room alarm clocks.

The 20-year-old chain, acquired by Hilton in 1999, said approximately 120 properties per month are being transformed, and all 1,300 Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites properties will be updated by year's end. In addition, by the end of 2005, all Hampton properties will have new bedding.

"We were the first brand to require irons and ironing boards in every room, the first to require data ports, the first to require coffeemakers, the first to roll out a 100% satisfaction guarantee," said Phil Cordell, senior vice president, brand management for Hampton Inn and Hampton Inn & Suites.

"For the past 20 years, we have led the industry with those incremental steps. They helped to create some differentiation. But the challenge now is: What do we do to continue some differentiation as we move ahead?"

To answer that question, Hampton Inn conducted "thousands of focus groups and surveys," Cordell said.

That led the chain to look at "the hundreds of touch points that guests experience when they stay with us -- from the time they pick up the phone to the time they drive to the hotel -- and we identified four key areas that drive the overall satisfaction," he added.

Those touch points were: owning the welcome, guest-room first impression, continental breakfast and the chain's long-standing 100% money-back guarantee.

"Over the next few years, we are going to make 125 changes [within those four areas] in each of our hotels," Cordell said. "If you multiply that by the 1,300 hotels and the numbers of beds we have, it is 4.6 million changes that we will be making before the end of 2005 -- and many of those before [the end of] 2004."

Cordell said he believes the cumulative effect of the changes will be to demonstrate to consumers that brands matter.

"Third-party providers like Hotels.com and Priceline.com tell customers 'brand doesn't really matter; only rate and location matter. Don't worry about the brand. Leave that to us and we'll get you the best deal,' " he said.

But when hotel rooms become little more than a commodity, Cordell said, "we go into a death spiral because then it becomes only about price. ... If it is always about price and not about something bigger than that, then as an industry, we are in trouble.

"There will always be a pool of leisure customers who are only focused on price," he added. "But there is that service element that customers are craving."

Among Hampton Inn's responses to those cravings will be:

• Entrance areas: New planter gardens at the main entrance of the hotel and red welcome mats inscribed with, "We love having you here."

• Ambience: A signature compilation of travel-themed music, "everything from the Beach Boys to rap," that will be played in lobbies and other public areas.

• Front desk: Instead of the Hampton Inn name and logo, the wall behind the front desk will reflect the city the hotel is located in.

• Hotel staff: Employees will bear name tags that include what state they hail from "to create a personal connection with guests."

• Elevators: Updated art and positive visuals.

•Rooms: Complimentary wired or wireless Internet services in every room by year's end.

Hampton Inn also contracted with Timex to develop a proprietary alarm clock that is simple to set and displays both the current time and the time set for the wake alarm.

Breakfast areas are a big touch point. At least 97% of Hampton Inn guests take advantage of the complimentary continental breakfast. To enhance that experience, the breakfast offerings will be refreshed and menus will be streamlined. Also, hot-food items will be among the breakfast selections as well as a prebagged breakfast to go.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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