Sheraton becomes a sommelier

Say you’re planning a business trip. If you knew you could get a very good glass of wine at your hotel at the end of the day, would that influence which hotel you book?

The people at Sheraton are betting that it will.

Earlier this year, Sheraton began holding “Sheraton Social Hour” events at a number of hotels, and 130 more Sheraton branches around the globe will add the social hours this week. From 5 to 8 PM, usually Tuesday through Thursday, Sheraton residents will be able to sample a selection of high-quality wines. At the larger Sheratons, such as New York’s, eight wines will be on offer, four scoring a Wine Spectator rating of 85 or higher and four scoring 90 or higher.

The Social Hour is also a media branding opportunity, since Wine Spectator is a partner in the program. “It’s the first time we’ve done something like this,” said Gloria Frazee of Wine Spectator.

Sheraton officials acknowledge that they’ve been looking for ways to spruce up their brand. At the high-end of the hotel market, customers distinguish between hotels by personally-tailored amenities, or by the level of service associated with a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons. At the low end, price and location can help sway choices. In the vast middle, the choices often appear commoditized; most good-sized cities are bound to have chain hotels in the same strategic locations, with rooms priced in roughly the same range on travel sites.

And hence the Social Hour. The idea is not entirely new. Some hotels in northern California and other wine-producing regions have long offered wine happy hours, usually for free and always with wines from a specific area. But three things set Sheraton’s effort apart: 1) They’re charging for the wine–$5 for a 2 oz. sample pour, and $13-$19 for a 6 oz. glass—meaning that the future of the Social Hour won’t depend on the promotional whims of individual vineyards; 2) no one’s ever tried this on a global scale of several hundred locations; and 3) the selection offered at Sheraton is hard to match.

Wall Street Journal snags another hotel chain

DOWJONES-NEWSCORP/Under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch’s  News Corp, the Wall Street Journal has made no bones that the New York Times is enemy No.1. But that hit list doesn’t stop at the Gray Lady. From time to time, the Journal pivots to set USA Today in its crosshairs — and its latest actions mark a move in that direction.

The most recent flag the Journal captured involves Choice Hotels. Earlier this week, the Journal announced it will become the “preferred newspaper”  beginning in January for guests at more than 3,700 Choice Hotel properties including Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Clarion Hotel. What was the “preferred newspaper” before the Journal swooped in? That would be USA Today.

USA Today begs to differ. A spokeswoman for the paper emailed the following: “USA Today remains a preferred vendor for Choice Hotels in 2011.”