Travel Q&A: Wyndham CEO Eric Danziger

Wyndham Worldwide, which named a new CEO to head its hotels division in November, may walk away from its earlier decision to assign architect Michael Graves to modernize the look of its flagship division, Wyndham Hotels.

"Until further notice, (Graves' design) probably is the scheme," says Eric Danziger, CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group, a unit of Wyndham Worldwide, in an interview. "But just because I'm the new kid on the block, I get to say 'is that the right thing? Should it be only in select hotels as opposed to being a brand standard?'"

In August 2006, Wyndham Worldwide tapped Graves — known best for his streamlined designs of household items sold at Target — to redesign the chain's décor and furnishings for a more contemporary look.

The company said then that Graves' design would be a standard implemented at all Wyndham hotels, but its first prototype opened just last month in New York City.

Danziger says he prefers more individualized designs at each Wyndham hotel, reflecting the location's "indigenous" feel. "If I went to Savannah, it wouldn't be special to me if it looked like a room in San Francisco."

"What we ought to do is listen to what customers say about the Michael Graves prototype before I say it should go everywhere. My instinct says it'll have a place in the Wyndham brand where it belongs," says the 30-year industry veteran, who had previously worked with Wyndham and once headed Starwood Lodging.

Danziger's challenge in the new job will be to reinvigorate Wyndham's 12 hotel brands that range from full-service Wyndham Hotels to budget properties like Super 8 and Days Inn.

Wyndham manages or franchises nearly 7,000 hotels and claims to be the world's largest operator in number of properties. But the company has gone through numerous ownership changes since it was founded in 1981.

In the interview, Danziger says it was too early to reveal details about any changes planned for the company's properties. While predicting a difficult year for the industry in 2009, he says his priority will be to better define the identity of Wyndham's 12 brands and to emphasize the legacy of its "iconic" chains, such as Howard Johnson and Travelodge.

•Q: What can we expect in the hotel industry in 2009?

Many operators will have to go to the sidelines and pack up their bags because they're not prepared to deal with tougher demands by consumers. It's going to be a tough year, no doubt about it.

•Q: What kind of changes can we expect at Wyndham Hotel Group under your leadership?

It's difficult to give a complete answer after six weeks ... We (can do) more cross-selling. And (with) our frequent traveler program, Wyndham Rewards, you can get (points) by staying in all 12 brands.

•Q. In 2006, Wyndham asked designer Michael Graves to redesign Wyndham Hotels' décor? What happened to the project?

Until further notice, that probably is the scheme. But just because I'm the new kid on the block, I get to say 'is that the right thing? Should it be only in select hotels as opposed to being a brand standard?'

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