Image: Home2 Suites
Home2 Suites
Home2 Suites, Hilton’s new ES entry, is designed to provide a more affordable “mid-tier” complement to the company’s existing Homewood Suites brand.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/3/2009 10:56:53 AM ET 2009-02-03T15:56:53

The operators of the nation’s extended-stay hotels would like to extend a welcome — and you don’t have to check in for two weeks to accept it. With nearly 2,700 extended-stay (ES) properties now open in the U.S. and more on the way, there’s plenty of room at the inn even if you only stay a night or two.

Of course, the underlying premise is still to provide a residential setting for those who are away from home for longer periods. According to consultant Mark Skinner of The Highland Group, the average stay is 13 days, dominated by workers involved in construction projects, corporate training or relocation.

But leisure travelers are increasingly discovering that ES hotels provide good value in tough times. Suite-style units offer added space at minimal cost; in-room kitchens cut down on restaurant expenses, and complimentary breakfasts are almost always included.

And now, new brands are hoping to attract new guests and overcome the segment’s reputation for uninspired accommodations. “Extended stay was cookie-cutter; it was lackluster,” says Brian McGuinness, senior vice president for Element, Starwood’s ES offering. “It was nearly an apology to have to stay in an extended stay.”

Not anymore. These days, extended stay is going from tired to trendy and, it so happens, outperforming the rest of the industry. Call it Extreme Makeover: Extended Stay Edition. You won’t find Ty Pennington or a battalion of blue-shirted workers, but if you’re looking for a little bit of home on the road, here are three new options.

Hyatt Summerfield Suites
Two years ago, this upscale chain rolled out a new design in its existing properties; two months ago, Hyatt opened the door on its first newbuild, located in Sandy, Utah. It features 137 suites, indoor and outdoor public areas and a layout designed to blend the convenience of a neighborhood and the feel of a community.

“At home, people’s lives are not confined to what’s inside their four walls,” says Alison Kal, vice president of marketing. “It sort of extends to the neighborhood.” To that end, the hotel’s lobby functions as a “metaphorical Main Street,” where a guest market serves as the neighborhood store and open sitting areas echo the ambience of an Internet café.

Meanwhile, the guestrooms take their cues from high-rise condos and apartments and feature flat-panel TVs, multi-modal outlets and decor inspired by couture fashion. In an interesting twist, the usual ES layout is reversed, with the kitchen closest to the window to create a gathering space that mimics the way most of us live at home.

Nightly rates (around $149–$199) include a complimentary full breakfast each day and evening receptions Monday–Thursday. Several more properties are expected to open over the next two years.

Element Hotels
If the neighborhood is the focus at Summerfield Suites, nature is the inspiration at Element. Not only was the chain conceived to achieve LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, but, in December, its inaugural property (in Lexington, Mass.) received Gold certification, the group’s highest rating.

The eco-chic motif is ever-present, both in style and substance. Design-wise, the hotel recalls a residential Westin with airy public areas, contemporary furnishings and large windows that let in plenty of natural light. Biophilic, McGuinness calls it, in a nod to the idea that people have an innate affinity for nature.

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But it’s not just greenwashing. The original construction emphasized environmentally friendly materials; furnishings utilize recycled content, and even the pool is sanitized with saltwater (no chlorine). In the rooms, Energy-Star appliances, dual-flush toilets and wall dispensers for bath amenities cut down on energy use, water consumption and waste.

Currently, there are two Elements open for business — Lexington and Las Vegas/Summerlin — with another six expected to open this year. Nightly rates (around $165) include complimentary full breakfast.

Home2 Suites
Announced just last week, Home2 Suites is taking a different approach. While Element and Summerfield will compete in the “upscale” category, Hilton’s new ES entry is designed to provide a more affordable “mid-tier” complement to the company’s existing Homewood Suites brand.

Like other ES hotels, the brand will feature communal public areas designed to foster guest interaction and on-site amenities (pool, pantry, fitness center) to help create a more home-like experience. Guestrooms will be built around a modular “working wall” that incorporates the kitchen, a workspace and storage areas.

According to Bill Duncan, senior vice president of brand management, the company already has 10 franchise applications on file, with the first hotel expected to open in mid-2010. Nightly rates (around $100) include complimentary Continental breakfast.

Different approaches aside, though, all three brands share a common premise, says Skinner of The Highland Group: “There’s a customer out there who is staying longer-term, but hasn’t [considered] extended stay because the level of comfort and service they want hasn’t been available.

“That’s the theory, and given the right market and location, it’s a good one.”

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.

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