Do Hotel Labels Matter?
Written by Paul Gorman, Senior Manager Owner Engagement for Luxury Escapes
I attended the THINC conference in Jakarta last week. In this conference there was a number of sessions relating to the brand guidelines of hotels.
One topic was ‘the continuing relevance of boutique hotels amidst the introduction of new lifestyle brands’. The panel for the discussion was made up of two small independent brands and two large multi-brand operators.
It was interesting to note that even during the discussion the panellists had difficulty defining a boutique hotel vs. a lifestyle hotel. As such, it makes the marketing of these brands somewhat problematic.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a boutique hotel as ‘a small stylish hotel, typically situated in a fashionable urban location’, which in itself has some inherent issues.
1. Define ‘small’ in the hotel world. Is it a property with less than 100 keys? Or less than 50? In some cities, a hotel with 50 rooms can be considered large.
2. Is ‘stylish’ an actual defined layout? One man’s style is another man’s mess, after all.
3. Is it mandatory for a boutique hotel to be in an urban location? One can identify many hotels in regional areas as boutique. Therefore, by its very definition, boutique is not an easy label to put on any property (or brand for that matter).
Similar is the rise of ‘lifestyle brands’ under the larger hotel operators to differentiate from the more corporate brands they may operate. Think Marriott with their designated lifestyle brands Moxy and Autograph Collection, Hyatt with Hyatt Centric and Accor with M Gallery. The dictionary states ‘lifestyle hotels are the next generation of boutique hotels. Driven by the chains, they borrow the best elements of boutiques – small, intimate and modern – and throw in advantages only a chain can offer, like loyalty perks, consistency and economies of scale.’ Does this mean that only a chain can operate a lifestyle hotel? Surely there is no defined structure that would not allow an independent hotel to operate a lifestyle hotel.
If you take the terms literally, a boutique or lifestyle hotel should at least be considered small as a hard-wired part of its DNA. However, in a cursory review of lifestyle hotels under the major brands, small would not be the common denominator.
The panel discussed the various versions of boutique and lifestyle and in some sense the consensus was that they were talking about similar-styled properties. However, the real takeaway was whether the hotel was described as boutique or lifestyle did not really matter – it was about the experience that the hotel provided to the consumer. In my opinion, this is exactly the point of any hotel – the experience the guest has at the hotel is what defines the hotel’s persona.
The more the discussion went on, I couldn’t help but think that the current labelling of a hotel is more useful within the industry rather than the person who makes the decision on where they may stay whilst travelling (the guest).
In another session at the conference, regarding the ubiquitous digital world we live in, it was noted that as it stands today around 20% of the workforce is made up of millennials, and by 2030 over 50% of the workforce will be millennials – and after that they will rule the world. As we know, the millennial is almost totally reliant on the digital experience and is looking at the world very differently to the previous generations. What does this mean to hotels and how they position themselves today, compared to how they will need to position themselves in less than 12 years’ time? I think an owner investing in any hotel would need to be able to future-proof the hotel’s personality, so it can adapt to the ever-changing demands of the consumer in terms of what type of experience they are looking for.
This brings us to the question regarding hotel labels – perhaps the old ways of defining a hotel are becoming obsolete, and new marketing tools are allowing owners and operators to really outline what the guest will experience in their property. So, what are these tools? If you take into account the growing relevance of social media in the world of commerce, then the obvious first step is to ensure that you have your guest experience clearly articulated on your social media platforms and encourage affirmation of the experience from your guests via their social media presence. If you have a defined guest experience, then ensure your team members from the top to the bottom live and breathe the guidelines – because if they don’t, the guest will quickly know whether the experience is real or a gimmick. Be authentic.
Look at your distribution channels – are they capable of articulating the guest experience (or the ‘why come to your hotel’ proposition) – or are they only showing the who, where, how and how much? If not, look for partners that cannot only showcase the property in a very defined manner via multiple marketing channels to an audience who is looking for experiences, but also drive demand to the property when needed.
Luxury Escapes is one such platform that can clearly articulate the ‘why’ of any hotel and put a spotlight on the ‘experience’ equation, whether you operate a hotel that is ‘boutique’, ‘lifestyle’ or an alternative label. We will listen to the story and then tell it in a very direct manner to a highly engaged audience.
For more on Luxury Escapes marketing, learn how we market our hotel partners year-round here.