Hotel name change decision ‘complicated’

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — An official from Country Inn & Suites corporate office said the break with the Natchez convention center hotel was “complicated.”

Joan Cronson, who works in the Country Inn & Suites public relations field of Carlson, said that the both parties — Carlson and the hotel — played into the decision.

But she would not divulge any more details.

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“We don’t share that information,” she said.

The hotel developer and the local director both maintain that the hotel dropped the Country Inn & Suites franchise because they wanted to.

The hotel was renamed Natchez Grand Hotel Monday, despite a contract with the city that says it must be a Country Inn & Suites.

Hotel developer Tom Bauer, who bought the land from the city in early 2007 and began construction shortly after, said the decision was based on marketing.

“As we became more and more involved, we just felt that the final thing we should do is alter our identity to be more congruent with the way we felt about Natchez,” he said.

Bauer would not comment on the financial aspect of the franchise.

“It’s nothing negative about corporate or anything like that,” he said. “The impetus for this name change was to wed ourselves closer to the community.”

He did say the internal marketing the hotel and convention center engages in drives business to the hotel, but whether that was one reason to go solo, he refused to make further comment.

Hotels that are part of a national franchise must pay certain fees and keep certain standards, said Janelle Russenberger, Carlson Development Associate.

Just to be eligible, a hotel must be one that is strong, competitive and viable in the area, she said.

The development itself must have at least 80 rooms and cost between $4,205,035 and $6,541,310.

The cost of having a franchise is broken down into several components — there is a $10,000 application fee and a $35,000 initial fee.

Then royalty fees are typically 4.5 percent of the gross room revenue, a marketing fee is 2.5 percent of the gross room revenue and residential fees are 1.25 percent of the gross room revenue.

Russenberger said usually contracts between a hotel and Carlson last at least more than 10 years.

The Natchez Grand Hotel had only been an operating Country Inn & Suites for approximately a year.

A fee is involved in ending a contract, though Russenberger said the amount depends on the type of contract.

In the franchising business, hotels are required to maintain a certain decorum that matches the franchise’s specifications.

Convention Center Director Walter Tipton said the reason for discontinuing the franchise has nothing to do not complying with Carlson standards.

“It (was) not any contractual issues,” he said. “We were always in the top performers under Carlson’s standards.”