Wyndham Hotels Gears Up For Rapid Growth

Parsippany, N.J. — Wyndham Hotels, due to be acquired by the huge franchisor Cendant Corp., is being prepped for rapid expansion and an increased emphasis on meetings.

Further, Cendant's powerful presence in the rental-car business, and growing online meetings management capabilities, could appeal to planners focused on consolidating their meetings spend.

"Wyndham has a good sales force, which we plan to keep intact," said Peter Strebel, chief marketing officer for Cendant Hotel Group. "And we have a relationship marketing group that manages Fortune 500 companies, so we'll coordinate with them on hosting their meetings.

"The corporate office team is excited about the takeover of the brand. We'll throw money at it, rejuvenate and reinvent it, repackage it, and make it much better."

Cendant announced last month it would purchase for $100 million the Wyndham hotel brand and franchise system, representing more than 100 properties in the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean markets, from New York-based Blackstone Group.

No real estate was part of the deal, the actual property being retained by Blackstone. The deal is pending approval.

Blackstone had acquired Dallas-based Wyndham International just the month before, in August, and selectively retained 14 of the most upscale Wyndhams for its new luxury line, LXR Luxury Resorts.

Cendant is a big player in primarily limited-service hotels. Its 6,300-plus facilities include such brands as Super 8, Days Inn and Holiday Inn. Cendant also franchises Ramada International, which it bought last year from Marriott.

"Since being formed 15 years ago, Cendant has been looking for an up-market brand, and we've finally got one," noted Strebel. "The Wyndham acquisition rounds out our portfolio."

On the meetings front, Cendant expects its Avis and Budget car rental operations to create synergies for meeting planners, in bundling lodging and transportation options. In addition, Cendant owns Orbitz, the online travel booking website, which increasingly has been offering meeting services.

Earlier this year, Orbitz began offering hotel bookings for five or more rooms through the automated group-booking engine Group Travel Planet, which maintains a searchable database of more than 10,000 hotels across North America. The service allows meeting planners to assign individuals to rooms, add or drop rooms, and email attendees.

"We've just formed a task force looking into Orbitz synergies with our Wyndham brand," Strebel said.

While Cendant now has a full-fledged, meetings-capable hotel brand to offer planners, other brands generally have been held in higher esteem by meeting professionals.

In MeetingNews' Planners' Hotel Preference Poll, released in May, Wyndham ranked 10th out of 12 hotel chains in the upscale category. Leading that category were Walt Disney Resort, Marriott and Renaissance. Wyndham was low rated in such areas as guestroom quality, value and physical appearance.

Its best evaluation came in the areas of sales staff professionalism and responsiveness to planner inquiries.

"We've taken the J.D. Power survey and are looking at our brand's deficiencies and how we can correct them," Strebel said. "The previous management wasn't really focused on the future, on what the competition was doing or on how to invest in services."

Strebel said the first order of business is to stabilize the Wyndham chain, then integrate its operations with Cendant overall.

"Finally,we're looking at rapid growth," he said.