Wingate aims to appeal to its diverse mix of guests

PARSIPPANY, NJ—When Wingate Inns was launched in 1995, there was no Wyndham Worldwide, the multi-brand global franchisor that now umbrellas the midscale product.

The all-new-construction hotel concept was birthed by HFS Inc., which at the time included among its upper-echelon executives such industry icons as John Russell and Eric Pfeffer, along with John Snodgrass, who was serving as the organization’s president/COO.

With impact from the early 1990s recession still resonating across the industry, the brand was developed largely to meet the needs of business travelers who were looking for a more streamlined, “no surprises” hotel experience that included the latest available technology bells and whistles.

The first Wingate Inn opened in July 1996 in Alpharetta, GA, and by year’s end, the brand had inked some 155 franchise agreements representing approximately 15,000 rooms, and there appeared to be no slowdown in sight.

“Since our introduction, we’ve sold more than 200 franchises, which we believe is an industry record for a new brand launch,” said then-Wingate Inns President/COO Fred Mosser in summing up year-end 1996 activity, adding: “In addition, we opened our first four hotels and positioned ourselves to enter the Canadian market.”

In the years that followed, HFS underwent its own transformation, merging with CUC International Inc. to form Cendant Corp., which was Wyndham Worldwide’s predecessor.

So, it wasn’t until 2001 that the brand made its way to the Great White North, where it opened its first hotel outside of the United States in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

In 2006, Cendant transferred all the assets of its Hospitality Services to Wyndham Worldwide, and the following year, Wingate Inns took on its new parent’s pedigree, changing its name to Wingate by Wyndham.

Since then, the brand has made a foray into Mexico, continues to open properties in Canada, and has an eye on China.

According to Larry Hambro, VP, brand operations, Wingate by Wyndham, the brand is one “that’s on a roll” in terms of growth and the guest experience.

“Wingate by Wyndham is on pace this year to have its best and most exciting year of growth in nearly 10 years,” he said.

The brand portfolio at press time consisted of 155 hotels across the U.S. (147 hotels), Canada (7 hotels) and Mexico (1 hotel). Sixty hotels are in the pipeline.

“The vast majority are new-construction, which is the primary way we’re expanding this brand and introducing it to new cities,” said Hambro. “We do look at adaptive-reuse scenarios, largely in urban and high-barrier-to-entry markets.”

Most of the brand’s growth is happening in secondary markets throughout the U.S., where the brand continues to see increased demand from business travel for midscale hotels, he noted.

“Areas in the U.S. we’re targeting include the West Coast, San Antonio, Austin, Chicagoland, Metro DC; these are the kinds of dynamic markets we want to bring our brand to,” he said.

Development in Canada also is robust. Last month, the brand opened in British Columbia, and as previously reported, Wyndham Hotel Group has a multi-unit agreement with PHI Hotel Group to develop 25 Wingates in Canada over the next 25 years.

“The brand also is headed to China for the first time with two hotels planned for Sanya and Zhangzhou. With a growing and traveling middle class in China, we expect this brand to really take off there,” said Hambro.

The hotels in the U.S. and Canada are similar in look and feel, as the brand was designed to offer a consistent experience for guests regardless of where they’re traveling, said the VP, noting the hotels are geared to maximize space and offer efficiencies to deliver greater value.

“As we expand overseas, you may see a slightly different experience in different countries. For example, our planned Wingate hotels in China will feel more resort-like to reflect the market and meet Chinese travelers’ needs and expectations,” said Hambro.

In terms of development, both domestically and internationally, Hambro said interest in the brand has been “just incredible” of late. “This week alone, I saw applications every single day from owners wanting to join the brand,” he said. “As mentioned, we see real opportunity to partner with owners and developers in China.”

Hambro emphasized that no matter where the brand expands, it will maintain its DNA in that it is geared toward giving guests everything they need to stay connected, productive and ready for whatever comes next while on the road.

“The types of travelers, demographics and reasons for travel have all become so diverse these days that being flexible and cross-trained to adapt to a wide assortment of travelers is paramount,” he stressed. “While brands have key customers like group business or leisure guests or millennials, Wingate understands that in today’s world a brand must be able to relate to all kinds of guests—and we do.”

Where once the focus was business-travel-centric, that view has expanded, Hambro observed, along with the trend toward so-called “bleisure” travel, which blurs the business and leisure lines.

“Our guests are business travelers who go from city to city on sales missions Sundays through Thursdays, or the family visiting an amusement park on an out-of-town getaway, or the group of friends getting together for their college reunion. Wingate guests are everyday travelers who want excellent service and great value, but they don’t want to sacrifice amenities or great WiFi. They also want a hotel that allows them to stay productive and connected to loved ones at home,” said the VP.

Hambro maintained Wyndham Hotel Group is “laser-focused” on quality and is always looking at the entire system across all brands, including Wingate, to ensure the quality guests and owners expect is being delivered. “Each year, we part ways with hotels that don’t meet our standards as part of our efforts to maintain a strong reputation and consistent brand experience,” said the executive.

Of the initiatives Wingate by Wyndham has put in place over the years, Hambro was asked what has resonated most with developers and owners, and what has resonated most with guests?

“We’re dedicated to supporting the franchisee community in ways that help them succeed. Of those, we’ve seen a great response from owners to Wyndham Hotel Group’s focus on offering the best training resources in the industry; revolutionizing and simplifying loyalty with our top-rated Wyndham Rewards loyalty program; and delivering best-in-class technology to help them run their businesses efficiently and effectively, including being the first of our scale to roll out a cloud-based property management system. This technology helps economy and midscale hoteliers manage daily pricing and inventory, which leads to offering the right price at the right time,” said Hambro.

For guests, he continued, it’s all about the experience. “And delivering the best possible guest experience and service is what sets Wingate apart,” Hambro contended. “They appreciate the time, energy and effort our hotel teams put into making their stays memorable and our satisfaction scores and rankings prove it. The brand has topped the midscale segment three years running in the J.D. Power North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index study, and our NPS (Net Promoter Score) is at 40, towering above the midscale segment’s average of 15.”

Similarly, the executive was asked what, in Wingate’s history, he saw as being most transformative for the brand.

“Hotel owners and developers took notice when we launched our design-driven prototype a few years back,” he said. “This stunning design, which I truly believe is the best in the segment, evolved the guest experience to better meet travelers’ needs while also lowering development costs and capturing greater efficiencies for hotel owners. When a brand can deliver a cost-effective design that doesn’t skimp on services or amenities—like Wingate has done—both developers and guests keep coming back. I believe this prototype is one of the key driving forces behind the brand’s rising guest and owner satisfaction.”

With so many hotel brands emerging since Wingate was founded, Hambro indicated “amazing service” is how the Wyndham brand stays true to its roots.

“It’s the backbone of our DNA. That being said, we’re a brand team that understands you should never be content; you can always be, and do, better. That’s what we strive to do each and every day,” he said.

From adding new services like premium high-speed WiFi to offering advanced technology, sales and marketing tools to franchisees, the VP indicated the Wingate team remains focused on the brand’s ideals, values and customers.

“It’s a daily exercise and it’s what keeps us going,” he said. “And the growth we’re seeing, coupled with the brand’s consistently high guest-satisfaction scores, prove it’s working.”

As it heads toward the quarter-century mark, Hambro said the future for Wingate by Wyndham is “all about growing the brand’s footprint while continuing to deliver best-in-class service to owners and our guests. And we’re working on integrating some very cool technologies and amenities that will really kick the brand experience into higher gear.

“Personally, I’m unbelievably excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for this brand and the potential for more and more travelers to experience everything Wingate has to offer,” Hambro said. HB