Lovell Travelodge makes a big splash with Wyndham Hotels

By David Peck

When Becky Ontiveroz got the word, it didn’t register at first.

The general manager of the Lovell Travelodge hotel was meeting with Timothy Walton, manager of franchise operations for the Pacific Northwest Region for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the parent company of Travelodge properties.

The Lovell Travelodge, called Travelodge by Wyndham Lovell/Bighorns on the company website, had only been open since December, but Walton had big news. He told Ontiveroz that, out of 391 Travelodge properties worldwide, the Lovell hotel was the number four-ranked property for the second quarter of 2021, April through June.

“He emailed me on July fourth saying he wanted to come for a visit, and on July 26 he came,” Ontiveroz said. “He just praised this place. He was so impressed with what was accomplished in a short amount of time.”

Ontiveroz explained that Wyndam rates its Travelodge properties from one to five based on a formula that blends criteria like occupancy, revenue and guest satisfaction. The average score for the 391 Travelodge properties is 3.26, Ontiveroz said, and the score for the Lovell hotel for the second quarter was 4.54 – fourth out of 391.

Ontiveroz smiled as she recalled the conversation with Walton in July. She said when he told her, she said something like, “That’s cool. We have a lot of hard workers, and it’s a team effort.”

Then he leaned in and said something like “fourth – out of 391 hotels.” And then it hit her. “The whole wide world?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “The whole wide world.”

“He said, ‘It’s simply amazing. You guys are brand new,’” Ontiveroz said.

In short, the Lovell Travelodge has been a hit. Lovell native Dr. Shane Mangus of the Indianapolis area has poured development money into his hometown via his company Mustang Properties and has started a bed and breakfast and acquired the Cattlemen Motel, the former Econo Inn (now the Travelodge) and the Brandin’ Iron Restaurant, now the Mustang Café and Smokehouse.

Dr. Mangus, an organ transplant surgeon at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis, purchased the Econo Inn in July of 2019, taking ownership on August 1. He immediately closed the property and began a major renovation project. The renovation and acquisition of furnishings took a year, but by the fall of 2020, the Travelodge was pretty much ready. After opening on a limited basis for some local construction workers, the Travelodge opened officially to the public on December 3.

A tour of the hotel reveals fresh, bright rooms with new beds and bedding, new furniture and fixtures, flat screen TVs and, in the suites, either a pullout couch/bed or an additional bed, plus some basic appliances including a refrigerator, microwave and sink.

The franchise

Part of the process during the first year of ownership was finding the right franchise. Mangus knew it would be a Wyndham property but worked with the corporation to find the brand. Ontiveroz said Travelodge is a good fit because the franchise, though a budget property, builds it brand on being close to national parks and recreation areas. In fact, she said, the Travelodge motto is “Adventure Starts Here.”

The Lovell hotel was constructed in 1984 by the Bischoff family and was first a Super 8. Ontiveroz said the basic structure of the building was solid, and John Mangus oversaw the renovation on the ground, consulting with brother Shane in Indiana. John’s wife Celia oversaw the interior design and furnishings, plus landscaping.

Ontiveroz started work at Mustang Properties in April of 2020 after moving home from Laramie with husband Mike. She first worked at the Cattlemen Motel, then became general manager of the Travelodge in July and worked closely with Wyndham to learn online booking and franchise requirements, while hiring employees.

Ontiveroz noted that the Travelodge is the only franchise motel in Big Horn County and said that’s an advantage because if people like a brand, they stay with it, adding, “It brings them here.” The opportunity for nationwide booking is a plus, Ontiveroz said, along with what she called “the amazing Wyndham Rewards program,” which awards guests points for frequent bookings.

She said U.S. News and World Report has named Wyndham Rewards as the number one hotel loyalty program.

One thing Dr. Mangus has allowed Ontiveroz to do is work with a revenue management consultant from Wyndham who works closely with her on various areas of the hotel business.

“She looks at the big picture,” Ontiveroz said, noting that the consultant, based in Florida, helps with setting rates, management decisions and general advice.

“In our first year, it’s been great,” she said. “We have a Zoom meeting twice a month. I really appreciate Shane allowing me to do that…I set the rates with the advice and direction of the revenue manager.”

The assistant manager working with Ontiveroz is Elizabeth Gurrola.

Wyndham is the largest hotel chain in the world, Ontiveroz said, with more than 9,000 properties in more than 80 countries operating under 23 brands.

Business has been good at the Lovell property, Ontiveroz said, with the hotel averaging an occupancy rate since April of 83 to 100 percent. The hotel has 29 rooms, and Ontiveroz is pleased that high school teams and other groups have a place to stay in Lovell. She said she constantly promotes local businesses and features to visitors.

Another benefit of the Mangus purchase is the renovation of the Big Horn RV Park behind the hotel. She said the park is functional, with 18 spaces available and further landscaping to be done this fall and next spring. She said three of the six bathhouses are completely finished.

Other news

Ontiveroz had other news to report. Dr. Mangus is purchasing the King’s Inn in Powell, a 48-room property that will also be a Travelodge, with the transfer of ownership set for September 30. A renovation will follow a few rooms at a time, she said, with the hotel continuing to operate.

 She also announced that the Mustang Café and Smokehouse has a new restaurant manager in Scott Nelson, who comes to Lovell from Big Sky Resort in Montana. Nelson has a lot of experience running restaurants, Ontiveroz said, and will soon have the new smoker up and running.