I had the chance to ask Wayne Golderg, CEO of La Quinta, if he regretted the timing, cost or perception of this conference in Hawaii. His answer was a simple "no." He said having it now was more important than ever and admitted the company did consider cancelling it. It sounded as if not having one next year was a painful, but "prudent" decision. Goldberg said he considered a scaled-back version, but skipping a year and continuing with the same efforts and intensity made more sense. He said he thought some companies were canceling events now because of perceptions and not realities, and that's what he wanted to avoid.
Some other quick insights gleaned from a lunch with LQ's top execs:
* Attendees were excited to have more free time built into the program and rather than a planned meal on the third night of the conference, LQ gave everyone a $75 prepaid credit card for food and fun. The total spend was around $75,000 ($75x1,000 attendees, roughly), but was much less than what an organized dinner for 1,000 would have cost. And this option was a rousing success, from what they said, and what I heard from attendees. "Perceived value," Goldberg said.
* Golderg said despite the positive approach the company was taking, it was not ignoring the reality of the economy: "It's a challenge, but we're working hard to come out of this ''Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger' when the cycle turns."
* EVP of Franchising and new Chief Development Officer Raj Trivedi said there was no timetable for reaching 1,000 properties; if it comes in three months or three years, it doesn't matter: "Whenever we find the right properties and franchisees."
* Chief Marketing Officer Julie Cary said the goal of the advertising campaign was to be different like Geico, get people talking and put heads in beds: "Innovation sells product" and being different is important. Cary and Goldberg talked about the addition of planned July and August advertising, when occupancy is typically high and ad spend isn't needed, as a way to overcome lagging business.
* Angelo Lombardi, chief operating officer, followed up Cary's talk and said if she gets them in the door, he and Raj would keep them, emphasizing the importance of the repeat guest.
* Golderg also detailed the formation of La Quinta's new brand council, which replaced the franchise advisory council and other operational groups, and would be unique in the industry. The council includes 14 members, coming from the executive team, franchise owners and GMs, GMs from corporate-owned properties and other corporate employees. It will meet three times a year and the first meeting was last week here in Hawaii. Many others from those above groups will be invited to the annual meetings depending on the topics being discussed. Goldberg and Lombardi talked about how having so much "skin in the game" made them more sensitive to franchise owners and this collaborative effort would move the brand forward.