When I was invited to experience the latest addition to the portfolio of Hilton Hotel brands worldwide, I had no idea I was in for a series of surprises. The first was the simple fact that Home2 Suites has been around for a couple of years and already operates 16 hotels throughout the United States, primarily in the South, West and mid-Atlantic. I get around quite a bit, but had never heard either of Home2 — or, for that matter, an extended-stay hotel chain belonging to the Hilton family of brands.
Fact number two was no less surprising: Home2 is the fastest-growing brand in the history of Hilton internationally. Clearly, you don’t get to be this popular without offering value that customers appreciate; this aspect would become more apparent as my stay progressed.
Surprise number three was as much in the details as the concept. Many hotels — perhaps more independents than established chains — talk about their commitment to sustainability and protecting the environment. And to be sure, just as many are indeed introducing green practices into their operations. But Home2 was not only conceived that way from the outset, the hotel structures themselves have been planned — and are being built — with all possible raw materials coming from recycled products.
The results are certainly eye-opening: it is hard to believe that the breakfast table counter top is not real granite — yet it is actually compacted recycled paper! Similarly, the impressive “wood” floors and “stone” columns yield no clues as to the true origins of the source material.
There are constant reminders of the environmentally conscious atmosphere: every room has a mesh bag for recyclables, while there are multiple containers on every floor for separating refuse. Both in the suites and the lobby — where free coffee, teas and hot chocolate are available 24/7 — china mugs and real glasses are provided; no tacky cardboard cups to add to landfills (excluding the take-away beverage containers (made, of course, of recycled paper), Proof positive that a consistent approach to sustainability actually enhances the quality of the overall experience.
Such amenities are not necessarily what you might expect in a mid-tier property, either, which is how Hilton classifies Home2. Yet despite the mid-range price tag, the standard perks keep on coming: not only is there free Wi-Fi access throughout, but the convenient Printer-On technology gives guests the capability to send print requests wirelessly from suites to the 24-hour business center; every suite is also equipped with at least one giant 42-inch flat-screen, as well as an iHome docking station and media hub for connectivity to the in-room television.
The suites themselves, which sleep 4-6 occupants, are actually more like studio and one-bedroom apartments. The kitchen contains full-sized appliances, including a large refrigerator-freezer and built-in dishwasher. Plus, in line with the hotel’s policy of conserving energy, the cupboards are stocked full of extra dishes and glasses, so that the dishwasher does not have to be run as frequently. The Work area is equally efficient, with a convenient movable table, adjustable lighting and a remarkably comfortable ergonomic chair, manufactured by Humanscale out of durable, recycled materials.
Of course, there is no need to cook breakfast, since Home2 serves a complimentary breakfast buffet with plenty of variety: hot dishes (with at least one egg-based menu item) are always available, and there is an emphasis on healthful choices, such as fresh fruit, granola, yogurt, oatmeal and even whole grain waffles (in test markets, for the time being). The food is just steps away from the Inspired Table, which features pop-up electrical outlets to facilitate working while eating.
There are some things that might take a little getting used to: dispensers for soap and shampoo in the bathroom for example, to avoid wasteful those little plastic bottles that normally contain the amenities. The micro-fiber sheets on the plush Serta mattresses are comfortable and take up much less time in energy-guzzling dryers, but they give the beds a rather rumpled look under the coverlets.
Other Home2 innovations include the Spin2 Cycle, a combined fitness center and laundry room, equipped with an impressive range of cardio equipment and weights, and free washers and dryers; multiple lounge areas, both indoors and outdoors, for relaxing and even grilling; and saline, chlorine-free swimming pools. The chain is pet-friendly as well: family-friendly dogs and cats are welcome to stay for a one-time deposit of only $75 that covers the entire stay. Finally, the ground-floor Home2 MKT is like having a convenience store right on the premises.
Hilton believes it has a winner with Home2: it is investing heavily in the brand, with 14 hotels currently under construction, and nearly 70 planned properties in the pipeline for completion over the next eight years. The chain already extends into New York, the Midwest and Canada — and should soon be coming to a location near you.
Published rates: The national average is $99-$109.
Text and photos by Buzzy Gordon, who was a guest of Home2 Suites in Huntsville, AL, for purposes of review.