Hilton Hotels and Southwest Airlines rank highest in brand equity in their categories, according to market research firm Harris Interactive's 2010 EquiTrend study.
The annual brand equity study measures over 1,000 brands across 42 categories, five of which focus on travel and tourism.
"In an economic environment in which budgets for both leisure and business travel are ever-shrinking, it is more important than ever for brands to set themselves apart from the competition in order to attract a larger base of consumers," says Allison Powell, research director for Harris Interactive's travel and tourism research practice, in a release.
Top hotels also included Westin and Sheraton. Hilton showed a notable increase from 2009 -- overtaking Marriott, which led the category for the past several years. Not surprisingly, value hotels score lower on brand equity than the higher-end brands; however, the reverse is not necessarily extended to luxury hotel brands. Four Seasons, while seen as one of the highest-quality brands, scores lower on purchase consideration, likely because of its high-end price tag, according to the study.
Southwest Airlines continues to dominate all other airlines in brand equity for the second year in a row. In addition to receiving higher ratings for quality and purchase consideration, Southwest has a much higher emotional connection with consumers than other airline brands.
The low-cost carrier's move to set itself apart from other airlines by not having assigned seats and fostering an environment of high employee morale continues to pay off, according to the study. Consumers recognize Southwest's good forward momentum by seeing the brand as being "ahead of the game" among airline brands.
Virgin Atlantic and Alaska Air rank second and third in brand equity, with Frontier Airlines and US Airways at the bottom of the category.
"Interestingly, while hotels have reacted to current economic conditions by offering the lowest room rates in years, airlines have attempted to make up shortfalls in revenue by charging passengers for services that were once complementary," Powell says. Only one airline -- Southwest -- made the top 10 brand list for the overall travel category.
Princess Cruises and Enterprise Rental Cars rank highest in brand equity for their categories.
Princess Cruises, a premium cruise line, ranks highest in brand equity, while the most familiar brand in cruises, Carnival, ranks lowest. Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean rank second and third in brand equity, with Royal Caribbean displaying the most brand energy in the category with consumers indicating the brand is "ahead of the game."
For the second consecutive year, Enterprise Rent-A-Car ranks highest in brand equity, followed by Hertz Car Rental and Budget Rent A Car. Enterprise's highest ranking is driven by rising purchase consideration for the brand over the past three years, Powell says.
This year's EquiTrend study was conducted online Jan. 12-21 among 19,708 U.S. consumers ages 15 and older. The total number of brands rated was 1,151. Each respondent was asked to rate a total of 60 randomly selected brands. Each brand received approximately 1,000 ratings. Data were weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. population of consumers ages 15 and older on the basis of age, sex, education, race/ethnicity, region, and income, and data from respondents ages 18 and older were also weighted for their propensity to be online.
The study evaluates measures including: equity, consumer connection, commitment, energy, brand behavior, brand advocacy and trust. The keystone to the program is equity, which provides an understanding of a brand's overall strength and is determined by a calculation of familiarity, quality and purchase consideration.