MEMPHIS — Hilton is launching its first new hotel brand in 20 years.
With today's scheduled opening of the first Home2 Suites in Fayetteville, N.C., Hilton Worldwide is venturing into a mid-tier extended-stay market that remains relatively competitive amid a slowly recovering economy.
Hilton already has a presence in the extended-stay segment with the upscale Homewood Suites, but Home2 Suites is providing something new: increased amenities and a larger, more modern lobby design. Hilton hopes its lobby concept — called "Oasis" — will bring extended-stay customers out of their rooms and into the lobby, so they'll feel less isolated or lonely during multiday stays.
Six other Home2 Suites are under construction, with the next few opening in Baltimore, San Antonio, Texas, and Layton, Utah.
Until now, mid-priced extended-stay hotels have paid little attention to lobby designs, on the theory that business travelers would rather hole up in their rooms than hang out in a lobby after working all day. But wireless access and longer stays have led to a new approach.
"As people have become more mobile with laptops and iPhones and what-have-you, the things that tether you to your room aren't there anymore," said Robert LaFleur, managing director and lodging and leisure analyst with Hudson Securities. "People are social creatures by nature."
Home2 Suites lobbies will be large, with plenty of tables and modern, colorful couches and chairs. A breakfast area is included. Outside, there could be a swimming pool, a patio with grills and seating areas, and an exercise track. The lobby design is a rarity for the typically bare-bones, budget-conscious extended-stay segment, providing an area for social gathering as well as communal and individual work and meeting zones.
The first Home2 Suites in Fayetteville, like most of the other properties in the pipeline, is a new construction project. It will have 118 rooms, priced from the low $100s, with rates dependent on season and availability.
Many of the properties will be located near universities, hospitals, military bases and commercial centers — places where visitors tend to stay several days or even weeks at a time. Fort Bragg, a major U.S. Army facility, is in the Fayetteville area.
Studios and one-bedroom suites will have kitchens and a "working wall" with a 42-inch flat-screen TV, ambient and task lighting, alarm clock with iPod port and MP3 jack. Furniture can be moved around to customize living spaces and adjust storage options. Studios will average 323 square feet and one-bedroom suites will be about 509 square feet, smaller than rooms at high-end extended-stay hotels.
Eric Brey, director of the Center for Resorts and Hospitality Business at the University of Memphis, believes the "Oasis" concept will be key to the new brand's success. "That's going to be that sweet spot," Brey said. "They're going to try to bring people out of the room and bring them downstairs and have a social dialogue that other competitors don't really provide."