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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 10, 2013

Over the first half of this year, hotel companies have pumped millions of capital investment dollars into renovations to bring their properties in line with new brand standards, and they have avidly pursued growth through conversions and franchises across all segments of the business. But nowhere is the pace fiercer than in the midscale category, with established brands aggressively upping their game in new markets and new brand names being launched at a dizzying pace.

Earlier this week, Element, which launched in 2008, made its international debut with the opening of the 152-room Element Vaughan Southwest in Toronto. Days later, Stamford, Conn.-based parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (www.starwoodhotels.com) announced that the brand will enter the Asia Pacific market with the opening of its first hotel in China, the 190-room Element Suzhou Science and Technology Town, in Suzhou, a major high-tech industrial development zone bordering the eastern edge of Shanghai. Scheduled to open in 2015, the new hotel will feature close to 11,000 square feet of meeting space as well as a 24-hour fitness center. And while this Element will offer all the signature services of the brand — a healthy breakfast, an evening social reception and a grab-and-go pantry, it will also feature three to four private dining rooms. "We expect this new property to become a flagship Element hotel, resetting the bar on hotel innovation and sustainability in the region," said Robert Zhang, vice president, acquisitions and development, Greater China, for Starwood.

Also this week, the Paris-based Accor hotel company announced a repositioning and ambitious expansion plans for its midscale Mercure brand (www.mercure.com), which includes the continued refurbishment of existing properties as part of a renovation concept launched in 2011, and the opening of 53 new hotels this year. Accor aims to grow Mercure to 1,000 hotels within the next five years by opening one property per week. Currently, the bulk of Mercure's 700-plus hotels are in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, but brand executives would like to set up shop in two new countries every year. "We are confident that Mercure's in-depth transformation will ensure that it will appeal to guests who will enjoy a truly different midscale experience," said Christophe Alaux, chief operating officer for Mercure, Europe.

Another new brand hitching its name to the midscale segment is OZO (www.ozohotels.com), which opened its first property this week, the 251-room OZO Wesley Hong Kong, right. Bangkok-based parent company ONYX Hospitality Group believes it will "transform the midmarket segment" and plans to open another six properties in the next two years, including two this year — in Sri Lanka and Thailand — for a portfolio of seven by 2015. Connectivity and quality are the tenets of this stylish  newcomer, where guests check in via iPad and the meeting space is named, aptly enough, Talk. "This segment is becoming increasingly popular, especially as both business and leisure travelers are forced to assess budgets and reduce accommodation costs," said ONYX president and CEO Peter Henley.