It's A familiar concept. A family of four can check in to a hotel bedroom and their tariff will be identical to that of the single businessman next door or the three tourists sharing a room down the hall. Granada's Travelodge and Whitbread's Travel Inn already offer such deals. Yet Niall Geoghegan, marketing and sales manager at Dublin-based Jurys Hotel Group, says that its Jurys Inn brand fills a gap in the market.
"Although Travel Inn is creeping into town [with Travel Inn Capital] it is priced beneath us," he says. "The quality of our product is upper three-star in city-centre locations. Our perceived competitors are in peripheral locations, so we are bringing something different to the market and we're priced differently."
The formula is difficult to put on paper, but includes providing more service than typical budget accommodation. The inns are always sited near multi-storey car parks and each has an Inn Pub and Arches Restaurant, which Geoghegan stresses are added facilities for guests, not destinations in their own right. All bedrooms are en suite and can accommodate up to three adults, or two adults and two children.
Jurys Inns have been around in the Republic of Ireland since the first two opened in May 1993 in Christchurch and Galway. These were followed by three more in Cork, Dublin and Limerick.
Now the brand has arrived in Britain. The £11m (IR£12.65m) new-build 230-bedroom Jurys Inn on Pentonville Road, north London, which opened on 1 May, is the first in Britain and the second in the UK (Belfast opened last year). It is also one of the largest.
Jurys' plans don't stop at London. The opening is to be followed by a 186-bedroom office-conversion hotel near the Royal Mile in Edinburgh this summer and a 260-bedroom hotel close to Manchester's GMEX Exhibition Centre next spring.
Jurys Inns has been forced east because it has limited scope left in Ireland. Geoghegan says Killarney in Kerry is one of the few places left to develop, but 95% of business there would be leisure, with only 5% corporate, so a hotel could lie dormant in the winter months.
The group already has a footing in Britain with its four- and five-star hotel brand Jurys in Glasgow, London, Cardiff and Bristol.
"The Irish market is overheating," says Geoghegan. "And the UK was our obvious next destination. We have four Jurys in the UK and they are trading well. This gave us the confidence to bring the inns concept to the UK."
The aim is to have 30 Jurys hotels and inns in five years, with at least 15 to 20 in the UK and possibly more than one inn in London. But that is dependent on finding suitable city-centre sites. There's no rush, as Geoghegan says Jurys is content to develop piecemeal and slowly.
"We're not after flags on maps," says Geoghegan. "There's more value in the short term in building up a physical presence than spreading yourself thinly over several markets."
But growth is a serious target. Development manager Stan Cooney was brought in1996 to look at acquisition opportunities. And Geoghegan admits that Europe is on the agenda in the long term.
He believes the inns will be successful in Britain because they fill a gap in the market for city-centre hotels. A key to this is the "affordable" room rates. Each inn is a profit centre in its own right and is priced according to its customer base, with breakfast always extra (£4.50 for Continental and £6 for full in Ireland, and £5 and £10 respectively in Britain).
The tariff at the London inn is £75. As it has access to the City, City airport and the West End, it is targeting an equal mix of business and leisure customers.
"In a key market such as London it is a great rate," says Geoghegan. "We're bringing a proven concept to the UK. We've made it easier for people to stay in a good city-centre hotel."
Belfast is one of the lowest-priced inns, at £59, and attracts mostly corporate trade. The Jurys Inn in Manchester, which will also rely on business bookings, is likely be priced at about £65.
The tourist-dependent Edinburgh inn will have seasonal tariffs. These will probably be £80 in the summer, when good trade is expected from visitors to the Edinburgh Festival and sightseers, dropping to £70 in the winter when the tourists stay away. The Edinburgh inn will be Jurys Inns' first conversion.
The room rates are not negotiable, although groups are usually offered a discounted rate.
Last year the Jurys group recorded pre-tax profits of £IR13.82m (£12m) on turnover of £IR57.7m (£50.2m), a 45% increase on 1996. It's difficult to assess how successful the inns are compared with the hotels, because Jurys has a policy of not revealing a breakdown of figures for each brand. But Geoghegan says demand for the London inn is already healthy, with advance bookings worth £1m. He's confident it will reach its target of 80% occupancy this summer.
The pre-launch campaign for the London inn was handled by Jurys' 10-strong sales and marketing team in Dublin. They advertised in local papers in Ireland and the UK in places that can access London easily by rail or air. Radio, travel agents and tour operators were also targeted, but a start-up room rate offer was thought unnecessary. "We do a lot of research to establish what the competition is doing, and we've hit the market well judging by the number of bookings," says Geoghegan.
The fact that Jurys hotels operate alongside Jurys Inns in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and now London gives the group's central reservations team the perfect opportunity to cross-sell. "Once a prospective customer is on the phone, the reservations staff have, for instance, the opportunity of selling Jurys if an inn is full," says Geoghegan.
The two brands are clearly segmented, however. Each has a different advertising agency and brand management structure to prevent them "cannibalising" the market, explains Geoghegan.
"We view our asset as being in the brand, and we have two brands," he says. "Branding will become increasingly important in future. We aim to be in charge of our destiny, not following it."