U.K.'s Millennium brings 28 Regal hotels into the fold in U.S.

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DENVER -- Travel agents in the U.S. might not know much about Millennium & Copthorne, a British hotelier, but chances are the Millennium name will become better known throughout the U.S. as the company integrates 28 hotels, recently purchased from Regal Hotels International, into its U.S. portfolio.

Under terms of the deal, consummated on Dec. 17, Millennium & Copthorne doled out more than $600 million for the 28 properties.

The acquired properties include the Regal UN Plaza Hotel in New York, the Regal Knickerbocker in Chicago and the Regal Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.

Millennium also took over management of the Regal Bostonian Hotel and is in talks with the owners to acquire the real estate. The Regal deal gives Millennium instant presence in the U.S. market.

"The acquisition gives us more critical mass in the all-important market of the U.S. It enhances our distribution and makes us a more serious global player," said Gordon Stevenson, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the U.S., who works out of the firm's North American headquarters in Denver.

Previously, Millennium had only one property in North America, the Millennium Broadway in New York. The Millennium has an adjunct tower, called the Premier, that opened in early 1999.

Stevenson said the company is looking to expand into other gateway markets in the U.S. But first things first: The company is focusing on bringing the newly acquired hotels into the fold.

"It's been a very happy transition," said Stevenson. "The path now is to evaluate the physical product and use upgrades and renovations so the hotels are compatible with the rest of the Millennium chain worldwide."

All of the former Regal hotels will be rebranded as Millennium properties, according to Stevenson.

"We've got a strong local awareness, and we've got to hang onto that, but also leverage into Millennium worldwide," said Stevenson. "We don't want to tarnish what's in the local market, and we have to hold onto the brand-loyal Regal customer."

The bulk of the Millennium portfolio consists of business-traveler-oriented hotels, and the Regal properties will fit into the portfolio nicely, according to Stevenson. Many of the hotels specialize in conference facilities.

Stevenson said working on the physical product will be the first phase of the integration.

Following that, the company will work on marketing integration, such as phasing in club floors into the North American properties.

"It's something we want to do with consistency right across the portfolio," said Stevenson.

Millennium is also examining the possibility of a global customer-loyalty program. Millennium & Copthorne, as a British company, realizes that it needs to let U.S. travel agents know about the changes. "Agents might know Millennium but not know we acquired Regal," said Stevenson.

To change that, Stevenson said the company will be introducing a travel agent promotion in the next two months. The form of this promotion is still being decided.

Millennium is also using the Internet, CRSs and printed materials to get the word out.

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