The hotel industry needs to better define ‘brand’
The hotel industry needs to better define ‘brand’
02 AUGUST 2019 7:31 AM

The way industry insiders and travelers view brands continues to diverge, and it’s time for a reconciliation.

The hotel industry spends a lot of time talking about brands. That might have something to do with the fact that the hotel industry has lots and lots of brands to talk about.

But for an industry that spends so much time dealing with, talking about, opining on, complaining about and sorting through its many, many brands, I’m not sure there’s even a good understanding anymore of what actually constitutes a brand.

I think within the industry the understanding of a brand is almost meaningless to guests but relevant in completely different ways to owners/operators and the brand companies.

Here’s the way I see it (knowing I could be totally off base): There are essentially only a handful of real “brands” that matter to consumers anymore in the hotel industry and they are the big umbrella companies such as Marriott International, Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Accor, InterContinental Hotels Group, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, etc., along with the third-party booking brands such as Expedia, Booking and even Airbnb.

Most everything else, from a traveler perspective, is a sub-brand that now exists for business and logistical reasons.

When you look at even the most successful recent hotel brands, I think that line of thinking becomes even more evident. Tru by Hilton (at least in the U.S.) took the world by storm over the past couple of years, but it really feels like that was more about the “by Hilton” than the “Tru” piece. Hilton’s massive distribution systems and loyalty program are the engine that drives that growth and appeal for travelers and owners.

That’s also why launching a new brand today is not all that different functionally from creating a soft brand collection. It’s all about distribution.

So when you look at a company like Marriott, with its massive stable of brands, the conversations tend to veer to this idea of if they have too many brands and what’s the right number, but in the end, is that discussion meaningful at all? The real brand driving that entire collection is Marriott, or alternatively Bonvoy, so it doesn’t matter to the end consumer whether it’s an Element or an Aloft or a Ritz or a Westin or a JW. It matters if it meets their individual needs for their specific trip and whether they realize the full benefit of staying within the Marriott family—i.e. loyalty points and recognition.

From that perspective, the hotel industry really doesn’t have that many brands, and if I were a hotel owner or asset manager, I’d be rooting for even more umbrella brands to help strengthen my negotiating position. At the same time, I get why they don’t want a bunch of new sub-brands cropping up seemingly only designed to skirt geographic protections and cannibalize business within that direct/loyal distribution ecosystem.

Really other than the internal competition piece, the number of sub-brands seems utterly irrelevant to me, especially in the era of soft brands. A collection basically is introducing dozens to hundreds of individually branded hotels into your ecosystem, and there’s no travel detriment to that. In fact many view the individuality as a positive.

We probably won’t ever get to the point in the hotel industry that there are really clear-cut megabrands like in some other industries. McDonalds is just McDonalds, but I doubt we ever get to the day where Marriott is just Marriott, and for good reason.

But if we can get to a point where we all recognize what the meaningful “brands” really are, I think it will significantly elevate the conversation.

What do you think? Let me know via email or on Twitter.

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