Value Added: Choice Hotels chief bets future on technology and one heck of a waffle

At the time, Choice’s stock was wheezing. Three years later, it’s up 55 percent and management is preparing to propose a $10 per share dividend to the board of directors.

He runs a big business. Choice Hotels International franchises more than 6,100 hotels, representing more than 495,000 rooms, in the United States and more than 30 other countries and territories. The company’s brands include Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites and Econo Lodge.

Choice, which is 51 percent owned by the Bainum family of Montgomery County, has a unique business model. Rather than owning or running hotels, it collects a flat royalty from its franchisees, which averages 4.2 percent of gross room revenue but can vary widely based on negotiations with individual franchisees. Choice gets an additional 3.8 percent of gross room revenue to fund its worldwide marketing and reservation system.

Joyce, a New Carrollton native, went to Largo Senior High School and graduated from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce.

How did you get the stock price from $25.65 when we talked three years ago to over $39 today?

In fairness, the stock had dipped when we talked [in 2009]. When I came in, in May of 2008, it was $35. We had just started to slow down.

One of the advantages I had is this company has [plenty of room] on the balance sheet. We had the opportunity to invest $50 million in infrastructure. We went from a competent technology position to an industry leader.

We were first with the iPhone app and very quickly followed that with the Droid app. Our mobile bookings are up approximately 250 percent year-over-year. We are convinced people are going to go mobile. .?.?.
?Most likely it’s going to be a personal device like a pad. You can see it coming.

Speaking of predictions, what’s the summer travel season look like?

Americans are ready to take their vacations, and nothing is going to stop them. We did a survey and nine out of 10 said that I’m taking the same amount of vacation or more.

What about unemployment?

The people with jobs, because the companies are doing so well, they feel stable.

Everything’s been stress-tested and they’re still traveling. They worked their way through high gas prices, which have come down. They worked their way through the histrionics over Europe, and that hasn’t slowed them down.

It’s not getting better in a hurry, but as long as it’s not deteriorating .?.?. people feel very good about that.

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