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HM Exclusive: Sonesta launches next chapter

HM Exclusive: Sonesta launches next chapter

Since its 2021 acquisition of Red Lion Hotels Corporation, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation (Sonesta) has been busy coalescing brands, properties and strategy in a process that Sonesta Executive Vice President and President of Franchise & Development Keith Pierce calls “stitching them all together under the Sonesta umbrella.”

There has been no shortage of behind-the-scenes work happening at the Boston-based brand—the eighth largest hotel company in the U.S., according to Smith Travel Research. Integrating the “back of the house” functions for that acquisition, which included legal, finance, development and human resources, as well as setting up the legal requirements to start franchising (four Sonesta brands, at the time) was no small feat. Add in stabilizing the existing business of Red Lion’s eight brands and 900 franchises, and it’s easy to see why the systems and structure of the acquisition needed to be well in hand. Sonesta has developed a robust leadership team while simultaneously—and strategically—considering its family of brands.

“We’ve actually reduced the number of brands in our system this year,” said Sonesta President and CEO John Murray. “You’ll probably find a lot more articles in the trade press about brand proliferation than brand reduction. We’re going to have a brand, basically, in every segment, but not multiple brands in any segment.” With this consolidation, Murray noted that franchisees won’t be confused. “They won’t feel like we have multiple brands competing.”

Now, after almost three years, Sonesta is ready to reveal the consumer-facing side of its efforts.

“What we had told [franchisees] back then, we are now delivering at the conference,” Pierce said. The very first Sonesta global conference was held May 28-30 in Las Vegas, where alongside brand experiences, education and inspiration, the brand had a few surprises to share with its community. “We’re delivering the four big tenets of One Sonesta—the integration of the company. It’s really remarkable how far we’ve come in terms of the acquisition to where we are today,” he added.

One Consolidated Loyalty Program

Sonesta Travel Pass is now the single loyalty program across all brands, offering members unified benefits and one currency across a portfolio of 1,100 hotels. Sonesta Travel Pass members will be able to accrue and use points across the portfolio of 13 brands. Red Lion’s Hello Rewards members were enrolled in Sonesta Travel Pass and can use points to book stays at all of Sonesta’s properties while still enjoying loyalty perks. Sonesta Travel Pass points accrue quickly and have a higher per-dollar value, so members do not need to wait to earn tens of thousands of points for just one night. Additionally, members receive complimentary upgrades, welcome gifts, and premium parking during every stay.

Single Storefront at

With the launch of the single brand storefront——the company is forging stronger connections across its family of brands. The Red Lion website redirects to, which supports the new single loyalty program of approximately six million members with online redemption, member dashboards and more. Guests can search rates across 13 brands all in one place to make booking stays more efficient and seamless.

Brand Rationalization

For the remaining 13 brands in the Sonesta portfolio, endorser branding was introduced at the global conference. “By Sonesta” nomenclature will be added to each of the Red Lion legacy brands, more closely aligning with the One Sonesta message. “That endorser branding is huge. It’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Pierce said. This provides the strength of the brand’s name recognition and unifying message across the full portfolio. “This adds 800 Sonesta billboards in the form of the exterior signage across the franchise portfolio,” he added.

Leadership strategy required a hard look at the portfolio. The company elected to retire the GuestHouse and Hotel RL brands, which will no longer be sold as a franchise option and were removed from Sonesta’s portfolio of brands. Additionally, Knights Inn has been positioned as a standalone brand with their own website ( and will not be participating in the Sonesta Travel Pass loyalty program or be sold on

“We feel like we have good alignment,” Murray said. “We think like an owner, because we are an owner, and not all the other franchisors are like that anymore.”

The Power of the Platform—One Voice

“In the industry, scale is a big piece of the puzzle, which was part of the investment thesis,” noted Pierce. “There were roughly 50,000 rooms on the RLH side, and 50,000 rooms on this Sonesta-managed side, so you bring them together to get 100,000 rooms. If you keep them separate, you’re not really unleashing the strength of the platform.” Bringing the rooms together and cross-selling them as “one site, one sell” on, under one loyalty program through Travel Pass, creates what he calls “concurrency.” It also creates the opportunity to commingle marketing funds and Sonesta’s national advertising has more power “because we’ve taken all of our dollars and aggregated them.”

That concurrency and single marketing fund enables a consolidated marketing and media strategy and resulted in an integrated consumer-facing campaign. “Rewards Season” starring Judy Greer, was just launched across all channels, including broadcast. This campaign builds on the “Famous yet Nameless” and “Whisper” campaigns over the last year—poking fun at Sonesta’s then-limited national awareness. “Rewards Season” celebrates the recognition and award status offered by Sonesta Travel Pass across the portfolio, while highlighting how quickly members earn status and points.

Formerly an 80-year-old relatively unknown brand, Sonesta had been quiet until recently. “Born out of a pandemic and now recognized as a competitor against the big six and the big seven—we’re in many of the conversations” now, said Pierce. Architecting the brand in a manner that he called strategic and methodical and thoughtful, “we have an opportunity that is so unique here. It’s more about getting the right dots on the map. You know, when you look across our portfolio of brands, and you compare it to the competitors, we have so much whitespace and we have so much growth opportunity.” In other words, he stated, “We’ve arrived.”

Sonesta Brands by Segment

The Royal Sonesta – Upper Upscale

The James Hotels – Upper Upscale

Classico, A Sonesta Collection – Upper Upscale (soft brand)

Sonesta Hotels, Resorts & Cruises – Upscale

MOD, A Sonesta Collection – Upscale (soft brand)

Sonesta Select – Upscale

Sonesta Essential – Focused Service

Red Lion Hotels, Inns & Suites by Sonesta – Focused Service

Sonesta ES Suites – Upscale (extended stay)

Sonesta Simply Suites – Midscale (extended stay)

Signature Inn by Sonesta – Upper Economy

Americas Best Value Inn by Sonesta – Economy

Canadas Best Value Inn by Sonesta – Economy


SOURCE: Hotel Management