Choice’s Mark Shalala on Ascend’s 200th U.S. hotel

Choice Hotels International Inc.’s Ascend Hotel Collection has reached a significant milestone with the opening of its 200th domestic hotel, the Lincoln Sands Oceanfront Resort in Lincoln City, OR. It is the third Ascend Collection resort for owner-operator Lincoln Asset Management.

“We are thrilled to reach this exciting milestone, and it really validates our leadership position in the soft brand space,” Mark Shalala, SVP of development, upscale brands, Choice Hotels, told Hotel Business. “Most importantly it means our owners are successful with the brand. Choice pioneered the soft-brand concept 12 years ago. It was back ironically during the last downturn where we saw an opportunity where no one was going. There was and is today a significant demand from owners of independent upscale and upper-upscale hotels who want to leverage our industry-leading technology and robust reservation distribution channels. They wanted to support while maintaining their operational flexibility and Independence. There wasn’t anything like that at that time. We created this truly unique platform to meet that demand at that time and it grew really quickly from there.”

The newly renovated all-suite Lincoln Sands Oceanfront Resort, located along the Oregon coast, is one of the only hotels with direct beach access in the area. It is also near God’s Thumb at The Knoll, Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy, Depoe Bay and the town of Newport, home of the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Amenities include a year-round heated outdoor pool and hot tub; complimentary hot breakfast; fresh baked cookies and salmon chowder served every evening in the lobby; an on-site sundry shop; guest laundry facilities and an exercise room. Free WiFi is available throughout the hotel.

“The Lincoln Sands Oceanfront Resort was a great fit for the brand,” said Shalala. “This all-suite boutique resort property has a welcoming coastal vibe and delivers a great local experience. This is the third Ascend project we’ve worked on with Lincoln Asset Management. Torre Morgal, CEO of Lincoln Asset Management, and his team do an incredible job with the design of their hotels and deliver a best-in-class stay experience for guests at all of their properties. We couldn’t ask for a better owner and hotel to celebrate this milestone with.”

The Lincoln Sands is the fifth hotel added to the Ascend Collection this year in the U.S., and Shalala noted that there is much more to come in the upscale segment.

“Continuing to grow the Ascend Hotel Collection is a major focus for Choice, as is expanding our overall upscale portfolio, which includes our rapidly growing Cambria Hotels brand,” he said. “We see the upscale segment as a growth vehicle and are investing heavily there. While we’ve recently surpassed 30,000 total upscale rooms between Cambria and Ascend, we’ve really only scratched the surface of where we can go in this segment.”

He added, “We have a best-in-class development team at Choice solely focused on growing Ascend, and we were able to award an average of 40 Ascend membership agreements annually in the last three years. This pipeline has produced an average of 22 openings each year over the same period. While the pandemic has slowed development activity in the industry to a degree, we were fortunate to enter it with a robust pipeline. In addition to the five openings since the start of the year, we are on track to open another 35+ Ascend properties this year. Beyond that, we have more than 60 executed projects working toward opening so we expect this impressive growth trajectory to continue.”

Worldwide, Ascend counts 383 hotels in 19 countries, and Shalala pointed out that Choice is always looking for more growth opportunities.

“This year, we added 22 casino resort locations to the Ascend Hotel Collection through a strategic agreement with Penn National Gaming, providing guests with a variety of unique, upscale ‘stay and play’ gaming experiences,” he said. “A longstanding alliance with vacation ownership provider Bluegreen Vacations also gives our members access to resort vacation club properties across the U.S. and Aruba. These exciting relationships not only add to the advantage for developers to join Choice and the Ascend Hotel Collection but also to the overall value of our loyalty program for guests since we’re able to offer an array of unique experiences and aspirational destinations where our 47 million Choice Privileges members can earn and burn their points. As Choice expands the brand through our traditional franchise model, we will continue to leverage the Ascend platform as we seek out other mutually beneficial and accretive relationships that drive incremental revenue and ultimately create more value for our owners and guests.”

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