Baymont Inns launches brand-building programs

Fresh on the heels of signing its 200th franchise agreement, Milwaukee-based Baymont Inns & Suites has launched amenities and guest-services programs designed to continue the brand's transition from the economy to the mid-market segment.

“It's really important for us to distinguish ourselves from others in this segment,” says James Abrahamson, the company's COO and president.

Baymont Inns & Suites, formerly Budgetel, is developing a 110% guest satisfaction guarantee program, which will provide a dissatisfied guest one night's stay for free, plus a 10% discount toward the next stay at the hotel chain. Abrahamson says the company also plans to roll out a new amenities package, which concentrates on what Baymont is calling the five Bs: bed, bath, business, breakfast and benefits. These amenities will include a pillow-top mattress cover and down pillows, two complimentary bottles of spring water, an oversized desk, high-speed Internet TVs, a business center in each lobby, a guest loyalty program, and an upgraded continental breakfast offering hot items such as French toast and waffles.

Abrahamson says Baymont will continue expanding aggressively nationwide with the goal of having 500 properties open or under construction over the next five years.

Berk relinquishes helm at Fairfield Communities

Jim Berk, president and CEO of Fairfield Communities Inc., has announced that he plans to step down in April following the company's acquisition by New York-based Cendant Corp. Berk, who joined the company in the fall of 1999, plans to pursue a CEO position at an independent company. Berk, who was formerly the CEO and president of Hard Rock Cafe International Inc., said he believes he succeeded in his goal of revitalizing Fairfield, implementing a long-term growth strategy and increasing shareholder value.

Berk will maintain his affiliation with the company as a special advisor to the Cendant Travel Division. Franz Hanning, current COO of Fairfield, will become president and CEO of Cendant. In an effort to bolster its timeshare division, New York-based Cendant Corp. reached an agreement in November to purchase Orlando-based Fairfield Communities Inc. for $635 million.

Golfer's utopia sells in Florida for $102 million

Tishman Hotel Corp. (THC) has arranged the sale of the Sawgrass Marriott Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to Philadelphia-based CIGNA Corp. and Pittsburgh-based Interstate Hotels Corp. for $102 million. The 508-room resort, located between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, is adjacent to the Sawgrass Stadium Course, site of the annual PGA Tournament Players Championship.

THC represented Resort Holdings I Ltd. and PV Resort Inc., the sellers of the property. The resort features six championship golf courses, 46,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, three swimming pools, 11 professional tennis courts, a fitness center, spa and beach access from the hotel's Cabana Club.

The resort is considered one of the leading properties in the Marriott system. THC, an affiliate of New York-based Tishman Realty & Construction Co. Inc., closed on $773 million in debt and equity transactions in 2000.

e-mail hotel and resort news to steven_webb@intertec.com

Marriott unveils Bulgari luxury brand

Washington, D.C.-based Marriott International Inc. has teamed with Bulgari SpA, the Italian jeweler and luxury goods company, to form the hotel industry's newest luxury brand. The new brand — Bulgari Hotels & Resorts — joins Ritz-Carlton as Marriott's second luxury brand. Both Bulgari Hotels & Resorts and The Ritz Carlton Hotel Co. will operate in Atlanta under the newly formed Luxury Group.

The partnership was announced Feb. 13 in London. “These steps demonstrate our continuing commitment to growth in the $30 billion worldwide luxury hospitality industry, as well as to building partnerships with preeminent, world-class companies,” said J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International.

The partners are identifying prime locations for development of the brand's first seven hotels. Leading candidates so far include London, Rome, Paris, New York, Miami, Southern California and island resort destinations. The resorts will feature contemporary Italian architectural themes and amenities.

The two companies have agreed to capitalize the joint venture with up to $140 million in equity and subordinated loans over seven years. The equity is expected to be divided 65% for Bulgari vs. 35% for Mariott, while the subordinated loans will be split 35% for Bulgari vs. 65% for Marriott.

The new luxury chain plans to open its first properties in 2003. The total portfolio is expected to be worth approximately $800 million after five years.

William Tiefel, vice chairman of Marriott International and chairman of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., will head the new Luxury Group. He said Ritz-Carlton will continue to expand agressively.

USFS franchise company reaches new plateau in Lone star state

In its fifth year of operations, Atlanta-based U.S. Franchise Systems Inc. (USFS) has hit a milestone in Aransas Pass, Texas, with the opening of its 500th hotel, a Hawthorn Suites. USFS, which also is the parent company of the Microtel Inns & Suites and Best Inns & Suites brands, now has 24 Hawthorn properties in the Lone star state.

According to USFS chairman and CEO Mike Leven, the opening of the 500th hotel in five years makes the company one of the fastest-growing franchisers in lodging history. USFS is the 10th largest hotel company in the United States in terms of the number of open hotels. The company has 596 hotels open or under construction, with Hawthorn hotels representing 164 of those properties.