Atlanta firm plans local hotels

May 01, 1997


Staff Writer

Officials at U.S. Franchise Systems Inc. are searching for people to buy franchising rights of the Atlanta-based chain, which markets three names: Microtel Inn, Microtel Suites and Microtel Inn & Suites.

Company officials bill themselves as the only low-budget chain that builds all of its hotels instead of purchasing existing buildings.

Greg de Marrais, franchise sales and development manager, said he envisions up to four hotels in the Hagerstown area. No deals have been struck, but he said officials are examining a spot off Interstate 81 north of Interstate 70.

De Marrais said the Hagerstown area is ripe for hotel development because of its relatively high room occupancy rate. The chain also would like to expand throughout Maryland, he said.


Economic development officials for Hagerstown and Washington County governments said they have not been contacted by Microtel, but said some companies work directly with real estate agents.

The company, which bought the Microtel brand in 1995, has struck deals in 45 states, said Jill Shapiro, marketing coordinator. She said 34 properties are open and 200 are under development, including one near BWI Airport.

Those who buy franchising rights pay the building costs and marketing fees and royalties, said Debbie Campbell, senior vice president of marketing. She said royalties equal 8 percent of gross income.

De Marrais said Microtel Inns seek to reduce room costs by cutting down on space. Room sizes average from 12-by-10 feet for singles to 12-by-27 feet for suites, he said. Prices average about $37 per night.

The hotels are ideal for travelers looking for a clean, comfortable place to sleep, but who do not plan on spending much time in the room, de Marrais said.

Several analysts said U.S. Franchise Systems' expansion plans follow a trend spurred by a humming economy.

Marni Dacy, a spokeswoman with the American Hotel & Motel Association, said the industry has rebounded after a period of overbuilding during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Greg Larsen, with the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a strong national economy, local tourism efforts and proximity to I-81 make the area an attractive draw. He said he gets inquiries about possible hotel sites every month.

Fred Teeter, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said hotel chains normally do not advertise plans before they have completed deals because doing so can drive up the price of land and other development costs.

But in a franchiser's case, he said doing so allows company officials to seek out franchisees, who will bear the development costs.

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