Red Roof remake: NextGen rooms offer style and affordability

In a Cleveland Plain Dealer article, H&LA’s Laurel Keller reports the move will increase the chain’s competitiveness and brand appeal

BSusan Glaser, The Plain Dealer 
COLUMBUS, Ohio – In the state capital a couple of weeks ago for an event at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, I had a choice to make at the end of the evening. I could:

* Drive back to Cleveland, exhausted, after a long day of work.

* Grab a room at the Lofts, a sleek, contemporary hotel, across the street from the convention center, with rates typically topping $200 a night.

* Take a chance at the Red Roof Inn, down the street from the Lofts, but with a nightly rate of less than half of its upscale neighbor.

I opted for the Red Roof – and as it turns out, I wasn’t taking much of a chance after all.

The Columbus-based Red Roof chain has made significant improvements in recent years, in an effort to bolster its position as the nation’s leading economy hotel brand.  

Many of its upgrades are designed to appeal to what had once been an oxymoron in the industry: the budget-minded business traveler.

In 2009, Red Roof Inn began testing elements of what has since become a chain-wide upgrade. These so-called NextGen rooms feature granite countertops, trendy vessel sinks, flat-screen TVs, upgraded bedding and faux-wood floors.

“It’s not your typical blue carpet, flowered bedspread type of room,” said Red Roof president Andrew Alexander, who oversees 360 properties across 39 states.

In addition to the new look, the rooms also offer free wireless Internet access and a cluster of electrical outlets on the bedside stands for easier access.

Alexander said the renovations are part of an effort to not only improve the guest experience, but to make it consistent, from property to property, state to state.

Red Roof Inns that have fully incorporated the NextGen renovations will become part of an exclusive subset of the chain, what Red Roof is calling its PLUS+ properties; so far, only 16 hotels have earned that distinction, including where I stayed in downtown Columbus.

But there will be more, as many as 40 by the end of the year, and here’s why: These fully remodeled properties are earning nightly rates that are 33 percent higher than their non-renovated cousins.

Guests at a PLUS+ property can opt for an additional, optional upgrade: about 10 percent of the rooms here receive a Premium designation, with a welcome snack and in-room breakfast, along with better bedding and a dedicated phone number for immediate troubleshooting. These Premium rooms command $9 a night more – and are already popular with guests just one month into their debut.

“People said it wouldn’t work,” said Alexander. “They said economy guests don’t want to pay more. But our customers are all different. Some of them want to pay more to get more. We give them choices and let them decide.”

He said he considers Red Roof’s new PLUS line to be an “upscale economy” option for travelers, nicer than a basic economy hotel and not as expensive as so-called midscale brands, including Best Western and Ramada.

Laurel Keller, director of appraisal and consulting services for Lakewood-based Hotel and Leisure Advisors, said the changes at Red Roof are designed to broaden the chain’s appeal, and steal market share away from more expensive competitors.

“It will definitely elevate their product line,” said Keller. “People who want a little bit more out of their stay may be willing to pay a little bit more.”

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