The Most Confusing Lodging Company in America 2019
“Only three results seem to appear when searching on BoardingArea for articles pertaining to this lodging company — with none at all written about its frequent guest loyalty program — and yet it is growing, as it has acquired its fifteenth brand recently.”
The Most Confusing Lodging Company in America 2019
That was the opening paragraph to this article posted here at The Gate on Saturday, April 7, 2018 pertaining to RLH Corporation — along with its Hello Rewards frequent guest loyalty program. Its legacy brand is Red Lion Hotels — hence, the RLH — whose first property opened in 1959, although it traces its beginnings all the way back to 1937.
In the increasingly turbulent landscape of the hospitality industry — which has been undergoing the ironically divergent effect of expanding brands while simultaneously contracting the number of corporations — sits an entity of its own volition, which quietly acquired a hodgepodge of hotel properties in a collection of brands which are loosely tied together with a program designed to reward its loyal customers with a small assortment of benefits…
…but since the aforementioned article was published, five — or six — of the brands have since been pared from the collection…
…or — at least — that is an understandable first impression.
Before going into the confusingly vague details, let us delve into a little history pertaining to the Red Lion brand of hotel properties.
Joining — and Then Leaving — Hilton
Red Lion Hotels was briefly a brand of Hilton Worldwide as a result of its acquisition of Promus Hotel Corporation for approximately $4 billion in cash and shares of stock in October of 1999, which included assets such as the Doubletree, Homewood Suites, Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites brands. The result of the combined company was almost 1,700 hotel and resort properties — which is considered paltry today when compared to currently boasting greater than 5,760 hotel and resort properties worldwide.
Members of what was then known as the Hilton HHonors frequent guest loyalty program could earn and redeem points at Red Lion Hotels, whose properties were located primarily throughout the western third of the United States.
The association of Red Lion Hotels with Hilton was short-lived: in 2001, the brand was acquired by WestCoast Hospitality Corporation, whose name changed in 2005 to Red Lion Hotels Corporation, which was shortened to the current RLH Corporation name.
Collection of Brands
“The acquisition of Knights Inn enhances RLH Corporation’s position as one of the 10 largest hotel franchisors in the world,” according to this official press release from Wednesday, April 4, 2018, which announced that RLH Corporation “has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the Knights Inn brand from Wyndham Hotel Group, LLC a subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide (NYSE:WYN) for an aggregate price of $27 million cash, subject to certain post-closing adjustments.”
The portfolio of eight brands of RLH Corporation — at least, what appears here — include:
- Hotel RL — At the heart of each of the seven hotel properties of this unique concept is The Living Stage, a platform for local musicians, poets, authors, artists, community leaders and activists to share their message live and up close — as well as an “open lobby, mobile check-in, free Wi-Fi, bikes to borrow, board games and a few extra surprises.”
- Red Lion Hotels is an affordable lodging option which has since expanded its footprint to include a number of hotel properties in Texas and the eastern third of the United States.
- Red Lion Inn and Suites — Calling this a separate brand may be a stretch, as no explanation is given as to the difference between this brand and the legacy Red Lion Hotels brand.
- Signature Inn combines modern conveniences in a retro concept designed to harken back to the golden era — presumably of the 1950s, with doo-wop music playing in the lobbies of the two hotels in Wisconsin and California.
- GuestHouse offers “a dependable and fresh stay” with “friendly service, spotless rooms and unbeatable value” for both business and leisure travelers.
- Knights Inn is a concept for guests who like to travel simply and casually with no fancy frills; no add-ons, no nonsense with “a place to lay your head at night, clear of any hidden charges or more choices than you need.”
- Americas Best Value Inn — The glaring absence of an apostrophe in the brand name notwithstanding, this budget brand has the most properties in the brand portfolio of RLH Corporation in every state in the United States except for Delaware, Vermont, Hawaii and New Hampshire; and no locations within the District of Columbia either.
- Canadas Best Value Inn is basically the Canadian version of Americas Best Value Inn with 26 hotel properties in four provinces and one territory — complete with the aforementioned missing apostrophe.
…So What Happened to the Other Brands?
According to this article which was posted at Wikipedia — and I rarely refer to Wikipedia; but information is scarce at best elsewhere:
Red Lion Hotels Corporation further expanded its hotel operations. In October 2014, RLHC announced a new upscale conversion brand, Hotel RL. In April 2015, RLHC acquired GuestHouse International, LLC and its two brands, GuestHouse International and Settle Inn & Suites, from Boomerang Hotels in a deal with up to $10 million. The acquisition more than doubled Red Lion’s size from 57 properties to 130 properties and added 5,187 rooms to its portfolio.
In September 2016, RLHC acquired Vantage Hospitality Group and its brands Vantage Hotels, Americas Best Value Inn, Canadas Best Value Inn, Lexington by Vantage, America’s Best Inns and Suites, Country Hearth Inns, Jameson Inns, Signature Inn, and 3 Palms Hotels & Resorts.
Following up on its acquisition of Vantage and its nine brands, RLHC pared down its brand lineup and positioning in May 2017 to eliminate market position overlaps and provide its franchisees the flexibility to move between brands. In addition to retiring the Vantage name, the announcement eliminated five of the nine Vantage brands — keeping only Signature Inn, Americas Best Value Inn, Canadas Best Value Inn, and Country Hearth Inn & Suites. All five of Red Lion’s pre-acquisition brands were maintained. The eliminated Vantage brands competed directly with Red Lion’s existing brands or had a very small footprint. With the brand realignment, RLHC also subdivided its economy segment into three tiers — upper economy, economy, and lower economy — and promoted its existing GuestHouse brand to the upper economy segment.
Five or six of the brands now belong to a mysterious collection of hotel and resort properties called Stay Inns Collection, of which little information is available at the time this article was written — and at least two of the brands have an apparent identity crisis:
- Three Palms Hotels & Resorts is an extended-stay brand — still with only one location in the Napa Valley area of California.
- America’s Best Inn, which is not to be confused with the Americas Best Value Inn brand of RLH Corporation — or maybe it is one and the same.
- Jameson Inn promises “an affordable and easy stay at the lowest rate inns in the United States” with “a refreshing alternative to other roadside motels” — but with only nine hotel properties in the state of Georgia, six other locations in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia have since disappeared or were re-branded.
- Value Inn Worldwide has only one location in the Los Angeles area — despite the name of the brand — and what differentiates this property from those of the Americas Best Value Inn brand remains unclear.
- Country Hearth Inns & Suites features “warmth and hospitality” with “considerate amenities, clean and hospitable accommodations, and everything our guests need to make their stay worthwhile” — with a brand name which bears too much of a resemblance to Country Inn & Suites by Radisson and could likely cause confusion amongst customers.
- Lexington is “the ideal family travel hotels with calm and inviting destinations” — but for some reason, it is also listed under the brand collection of RLH Corporation.
Are the Brands of Stay Inns Collection Independent?
Upon further investigation, every time I attempted to book a reservation at any of the 59 hotel properties of Stay Inns Collection, I was directed back to an official Internet web site of RLH Corporation to complete the reservation.
For example, when the Value Inn Worldwide hotel property is selected in the pop-up list at the Internet web site of Stay Inns Collection…
…the next step to complete the reservation is an official Internet web site of RLH Corporation.
Other Former Brands of RLH Corporation
Value Hotel Worldwide is basically the South Korea version of Americas Best Value Inn — the logos are still strikingly similar to each other — with only one hotel property, as this brand used to be a chain of four hotel properties. Whether this brand still is owned or operated by RLH Corporation is unclear.
Settle Inn was one of the extended-stay brands of RLH Corporation — with only one location in each of the states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan — but the fate of this brand and its hotel properties are unknown at the time this article was written.
Hello Rewards Program
Not much specific information is given pertaining to the Hello Rewards loyalty program — yet another loyalty program whose name includes the word rewards and to date still has no discussion dedicated to it on FlyerTalk — other than it being “a way of saying ‘Thank You’ to our loyal guests” and that members will “receive plenty of personal touches and extra perks when you stay at our hotels.”
Perks and benefits of Hello Rewards — which was launched on Monday, December 15, 2014 — include:
- A free night for every seven revenue stays
- Hello Rewards special room rate
- Express check-in and check-out
- Late check-out — when available
- Room upgrades — when available
- Offers exclusive only to members of Hello Rewards
My Memorable Experience at One Hotel Property — At Which I Did Not Even Stay
I once dropped off a few relatives at a location of Americas Best Value Inn in the north county area of San Diego some years ago at which someone else booked reservations for them. The place looked like an absolute dump; but it was too late to change their reservations. I drove a van specifically because two of them were disabled and one of them was elderly. I parked it in the otherwise virtually empty parking lot across three parking spaces reserved for vehicles with placards so that they could easily get from the van to the exterior entrance of one of the rooms on the ground floor level — especially as one of them required the use of a wheelchair; and I had to help all of them in to get settled for the night.
Not 15 minutes later, I return to the van right outside of the room to find a ticket on the windshield issued by a law enforcement officer of San Diego County for greater than $400.00 because the van did not have a placard. After complaining to the poor kid in the small glass-enclosed space which served as the area to check in to this place — complete with the requisite flickering fluorescent light — that law enforcement officer was called to return to the scene of the crime. He eventually negated the ticket — but not before admonishing me in front of the disabled and elderly relatives for not having the van equipped with the appropriate official placard.
I now laugh about that incident; but it was not funny at the time — although at least I did not have to be concerned about crime with a law enforcement officer lurking somewhere in that dark parking lot. If that dump was not already demolished, it seems to no longer be a part of the Americas Best Value Inn.
Concepts such as Hotel RL and Signature Inn have the potential to offer experiences which do not seem to be available at competing lodging options — I would consider staying at those hotel properties simply out of curiosity — but much of the remainder of the offerings of RLH Corporation are budget options at which I would not even consider staying.
In my opinion, RLH Corporation should consolidate Americas Best Value Inn, Canadas Best Value Inn, and Value Inn Worldwide into one brand.
I am less sure that ever as to what exactly is the vague long-term strategy of RLH Corporation, as its logic fails me; but the company appears to have moved backwards of what seemed to already be a long way to go to become a viable contender in the lodging industry on factors other than price — and a quick check of room rates even renders that argument debatable, as I would not consider paying a total of $76.16 per night to stay at a room at an Americas Best Value Inn in Osceola, Iowa when better options are available.
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.