From auto court to hotel: The development of Travelodge
From auto court to hotel: The development of Travelodge
20 APRIL 2017 8:45 AM

One of the first hotel brands to take advantage of Americans’ growing interest in traveling the country, Travelodge has positioned itself as a hotel where people can start their adventures.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—From its roots as an auto court on the West Coast when American families began the tradition of summer vacations, the Travelodge brand has spread across the U.S. and internationally.

Although this Wyndham Worldwide brand has exchanged hands numerous times throughout its lifetime, even leading to the creation of the independent Travelodge U.K., families stateside have come to know this hotel brand in the U.S. as their base for exploration.

Start of a brand
Building contractor Scott King developed the Travelodge brand in 1939 and opened the first hotel in San Diego in 1940 after opening a number of auto courts and motels around California, said Keri Putera, VP of brand operations at Travelodge. People started buying automobiles and traveling with their kids, she said, so King realized it was the perfect time to develop a hotel for cross-country travelers.

“He didn’t have a lot of competition in a time when the American family was getting out there and traveling to see the country,” Putera said.

King had co-ownership in the properties, making himself a proponent of someone wanting to build a Travelodge, she said. What led to the brand’s success is King’s clear vision of the company.

The vision, Putera said, helped “to make sure we were putting hotels in convenient locations where he knew travelers would want to come, to be close to different adventures, to be close to parks and different attractions that were bringing travelers there.”

The brand focused on basic, clean, functional rooms, Putera said. King didn’t want to put things in the guestrooms that people didn’t want, she said, so the focus was on the value without anything excessive.

In 1954, King created Sleepy Bear, the brand’s teddy bear mascot that worked with children’s hospitals and represented the brand when performing other philanthropy.

The mid-1960s was a period of substantial change for Travelodge, beginning with the start of franchising for the brand in 1965 followed by a consortium known as TL Management purchasing Travelodge in 1968. It was through this deal that the brand was introduced to the United Kingdom, eventually becoming its own independent company overseas. By 1974, Travelodge had expanded to more than 400 locations with 30,000 guestrooms across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Wyndham Worldwide’s predecessor Hospitality Franchise Systems (HFS) purchased Travelodge’s U.S. business and franchise system for $39 million in 1996. HFS later merged with CUC to form the Cendant Corporation, which in 2006 spun off its lodging, vacation exchange, rental and timeshare businesses to create Wyndham Worldwide.

Travelodge Brand Timeline
1935 – Scott King opens King’s Auto Court, his first, in San Diego.
1940 – King opens his 40th auto court in San Diego and names it Travelodge.
1946 – King incorporates his business as The Travelodge Corporation.
1954 – Travelodge grows to more than 50 locations and introduces its mascot, Sleepy Bear.
1956 – Travelodge opens its first hotel outside of California in Tacoma, Washington.
1965 – Travelodge begins franchising and grows to more than 300 locations.
1968 – A consortium called TL Management acquires Travelodge.
1974 – Travelodge expands to more than 400 locations, representing 30,000 guestrooms across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
1976 – Trusthouse Forte, part of TL Management consortium owns 95% of Travelodge.
1987 – Travelodge acquires Skylight Inns of America.
1990 – Travelodge acquires Lodge-Keeper Group.
1996 – HFS, predecessor to Wyndham Worldwide, acquires Travelodge and its franchise system.
1997 – HFS merges with CUC to form Cendant Corporation.
2006 – Cendant Corporation spins off its lodging, vacation exchange and rental and timeshare businesses, including Travelodge, to create Wyndham Worldwide.
2016 – Travelodge unveils its new “Base Camp for Adventure” brand positioning and sponsorship of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The brand today
Travelodge has 402 locations with 29,604 rooms open in North America today, Putera said, with nearly 100 hotels in Canada, making it the third-largest chain in the country. By the end of Q4 2016, the economy brand had 47 hotels with 2,960 rooms in its pipeline.

The brand’s guests tend to be leisure travelers as it started out with families traveling on vacation, she said. The average age group of guests is people in their mid- to late 40s who are travelers looking to explore.

“They have a reason to go to a certain market,” Putera said. “They’re not coming to stay at a hotel. They’re coming out to see something. That’s why our positioning is so spot on. We want to be the base camp for adventure.”

The ongoing goal for Travelodge properties is to give guests a great night sleep, fuel them up in the morning with breakfast and send them on their way, Putera said. Part of this mission stems from King’s vision that was born 77 years ago. Other hotels aimed at vacationers have been a roadside stop along the way to their destination, she said.

“Travelodge from its roots, its foundation, has been about putting people where they’re going to have that adventure,” she said.

More than half of the Travelodge properties are located with 25 miles of a U.S. National Park, she said, which is one of the reasons why the brand partnered with the National Parks Conservation Association.

“We’re very passionate about protecting and preserving the parks,” she said. “Individual owners go to park cleanup events.”

The organization has a project called See America that brings the beauty of the national parks into the hotels, Putera said. Local artists create works for owners to purchase and hang in their lobbies, breakfast areas and guestrooms.

While the new tagline is about adventure, she said, Travelodge isn’t only for those looking to ski or hike. The brand’s locations around the U.S. open up urban and beach destinations to guests as well.

Loyal ownership
Part of Travelodge’s core identity is that a large majority of owners are longtime, multigenerational owners of the brand, Putera said.

“I have owners who have grandfathers who built their Travelodge,” she said.

With that history and pride of ownership comes brand awareness, she said. These owners take pride and engage with brand resources, adopting new standards to keep up with the times.

“I think that goes back to our ownership and the fact that, of all the brands, we have one of the most longstanding ownership groups that have been around and been with us, some of them 40 to 50 years,” she said.

Sue Patel is one of those owners as well as the chairwoman of Travelodge’s ownership board. Her Travelodge Lynwood was built in 1991 in a suburb of Los Angeles. Patel said she had a number of choices at the time, but Travelodge had a large footprint on the West Coast and her company was looking for a leisure brand.

“It was the first that stuck out to us, a leisure brand that was really family-oriented,” Patel said. “It’s what we wanted to focus our business on.”

The continued push to attract adventure-seekers has kept the brand going with younger generations, she said. Coupled with that is the family-friendly atmosphere, which attracts more young parents and their children arrive as guests.

Sunny Patel, GM of the Travelodge Florida City/Homestead/Everglades, said he and his family celebrated his property’s 20th anniversary in February. His family built the property after Hurricane Andrew blew down their previous Knights Inn in 1992. Although his family is originally from Kenya, he said they used to live in England, which is where his uncle learned Travelodge was popular amongst European travelers.

“That’s how we decided to go with Travelodge,” he said.

A focus on customer service has led his family and hotel employees to get to know guests during their stays, he said.

“We’re calling the rooms after they check in to make sure they have everything they need,” he said. “There’s always something coming up which engages us with the customer. That’s what it’s all about.”

The property has seen return guests, he said, some for more than 15 years. One particular group has stayed at his hotel for the past 12 years in a row.

Sunny Patel said his family recently renewed their contract with Travelodge. They had the option of moving forward with a non-franchised name, he said, but his family chose to stay with the brand.

“Because of the reputation and the way the brand is moving forward, especially with Wyndham Rewards, this has a big advantage as opposed to non-franchised,” he said. “A lot of people know us as Travelodge. We don’t want to lose that.”

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