New London - At the new downtown Holiday Inn, consistency starts with a scent.
The city's only downtown hotel, open since May, contains a motion sensor that times the release of a pleasant mist with the arrival of a guest at the check-in area.
"It's the same scent in every Holiday Inn in the world," says Amit Rangi, hotel general manager and regional director of New Haven-based J&H Hospitality. "It's very subtle."
Not so subtle are extensive renovations made to the former Radisson Inn, including new rugs, wallpaper, bedding, furniture and 42-inch televisions in every room. Rooms are appointed with iPhone chargers, Wi-Fi and refrigerators, among other amenities, and the large, attractive lobby includes a business center where customers can log into computers.
J&H took over ownership of the hotel property in June 2011, but it required nearly two years to secure the Holiday Inn franchise by adhering to a stringent list of requirements, including specific types of plants at the entrance.
In the interim, the 120-room lodging facility at 305 Gov. Winthrop Blvd. operated as New London Plaza Hotel (a Holiday Inn on Frontage Road during that time was converted into a Clarion Inn).
Rangi says the five-story Holiday Inn, which leases restaurant space to O's Bar & Grill, is one of the few full-service hotels in the region. Apart from hotels at the casinos, the Marriott in Groton and Hilton in Mystic are the only other lodging facilities that he sees as direct market competitors for travelers who want a hotel with a restaurant, bar, meeting rooms, pool and room service.
"It's a one-stop shop," he says. "It's ideally located."
But hotel occupancy has been less than stellar, hovering around 50 percent during the summer, according to Rangi, who wouldn't reveal specific figures. Industry averages for occupancy are usually between 60 and 80 percent.
"This year was less than expectations," Rangi says. "It was a struggle in the summer. We're hoping next year is better."
Rangi, a Groton resident, says he expects business to pick up once the Holiday Inn and its managers become better known in the community. Through the summer, about two-thirds of its customers were leisure travelers, but Rangi expects more corporate business as the inn becomes better known.
The New London Rotary Club meets at the hotel regularly, Rangi says, and the site gets a good deal of business from the Coast Guard Academy, Mitchell College, Connecticut College, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital and the U.S. Submarine Base. It is looking to gain more traction with Pfizer Inc. and Electric Boat in Groton.
"Those are some of the big accounts we want to go after," Rangi says.
Prices are posted as starting at $139 a night on weekdays and $179 on weekends. That's about $70 less than some Holiday Express franchises that are not full-service hotels, he says.
Typical stays are one day on weekdays and two days on weekends, Rangi says. The hotel offers a $15 shuttle service to the Mohegan Sun that runs until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and it has packages for savings at local attractions.
"I have a very good staff," Rangi says of the hotel's 35 to 40 employees. "My product is awesome. ... I wish there was more demand."