Nobody wants to be a serial hotel brander but sometimes it just happens because of economic reasons or the decision of a new owner. A brand is a promise to deliver on a set of standards but what happens if a hotel or resort shuffles through multiple brands in a short time? How does the public — or travel planners — keep up with that kind of change?
Making matters more interesting is that the choices are multiplying for a property seeking a new identity. One, of course, is to opt for a new brand. That is relatively simple logistically as it’s only necessary to pay fees, meet standards and become part of the system. Another is to go with the proliferating number of soft brands. That includes venerable networks like Leading Hotels of the World or Preferred Hotels; or the exploding number of soft brands operated by traditional brands — like Marriott’s Autograph or the newest on the block, Hilton’s Curio. Finally, and perhaps most risky is to go fully independent. That provides a financial head start because there is no need to pay up to 11% in fees right off the top. And, theoretically in this age of technology, the playing field is more level so that an independent can generate business with shrewd marketing, social media and online advertising.
In recent conversations, executives with two resorts talked about the challenges of dealing with properties that had gone through multiple brands over a short period of time. One was from Grand Lucayan on the island of Grand Bahama. Grand Lucayan decided to go the independent route, repositioning itself as offering an “authentic” Bahamian experience as far as food and service. That presented a contrast to the glossy appeal of Nassau/Paradise Island, home to Atlantis; and the soon-to-arrive Baha Mar project. which will comprise a number of luxury brands. Deploying web tools, Grand Lucayan increased online revenues tenfold. All good, but there are still difficult months of the year and the resort continues to “flirt “with marketing and sales networks.
Then there is Lake Las Vegas which opened with a splash more than a decade ago as an alternative to The Strip. It was meant to be a competitor to Scottsdale — a manmade lake surrounded by upscale hotels and a couple of championship golf courses. It all went as planned for a few years. Then came the economic crunch, the closing of the golf courses and the purchase at a substantial discount of all the land by a hedge fund billionaire. What had opened as a Hyatt in 1999 later became a Loews and in 2012 a Westin.
Things are looking up. One of the golf courses has reopened with plans for the other to do so. With another Westin on the Strip, there is some critical mass as far as selling to the group market which is key to this property and its 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Meetings are being booked and an upswing is in sight.
In both these cases, even if the property is back on its feet and in better shape, the obstacle is an educational one. It means redeveloping or renewing relationships with meeting planners and travel agents who retain the perception of the previous brand or even a failed brand. In Westin’s case, there are Starwood tools to put the property on the map — with Starwood Preferred Guest driving loyalty members to stay there; and in the case of Grand Lucayan making the case to travel agents and leisure travelers that there is a more affordable and different kind of experience awaiting them.
Moral: choose your brand, soft brand or non-brand deliberately. Ideally, you should be able to stick with it for a long time to come.