HOTEL branding is in danger of becoming ludicrous.
Isn’t it odd to have a brand called Even? Or carve out another brand from the main brand called So? Or have a Luxury Collection and make people wonder what kind of luxury it is if the most luxurious properties in the family, St Regis, are not in that collection?
I hope some of my illustrious friends at InterContinental Hotels Group, Sofitel Hotels & Resorts and Starwood Hotels & Resorts respectively will have it in them to pause a little while, take themselves less seriously and join me in being amused at hotel branding.
I really could not help laughing out loud when I read that Even, IHG’s new fitness brand, would have coat racks that double up as pull-up bars (Will there also be weights latched to complimentary bottled drinking water that can serve as dumb bells?).
Or, when someone asked me the other day about the Sofitel that’s being developed along Robinson Road in Singapore and I said, it’s a So. And he said, beg your pardon – so? So-so? And I said, no-no, it’s far from so-so – the hotel is in a heritage building and it’ll be quite stylish!
I’m in the trade, so I’m fortunate I understand a bit more about the brands than the ordinary man on the street. But the man on the street is the customer of hotels. And they are becoming confused about hotel brands.
At least one hotel CEO has admitted outright that yes, we are confusing the customer. Last week, I interviewed Jean-Gabriel Pérès, CEO of Movenpick Hotels & Resorts, and it was refreshing that I didn’t have to spend the next hour listening to a CEO defend his brand segmentation strategy. No, Jean-Gab, as he’s known, told me straight that hotel branding had become “artificial”, that he had not seen too many brand creations that were amazing or significant (see View from the Top: Jean-Gabriel Pérès).
For me, it’s not a question of whether there are too many hotel brands. There can be 10, 20, 30 from one chain, so long as each is clear to and needed by the consumer. When it becomes one too many, it’s often a result of the brand being needed more by the chain than the consumer. It is no coincidence that brand proliferation has occured since hotel groups decided to become asset-light and management fee-heavy.
As well, rapid hotel development in Asia means brands are needed. Take a look at a city like Bangkok alone and you’d wonder how on earth a chain can cope with its brand promise to either owners or consumers when the same flag is flying close to one another and, worse, the properties do not have equal standards.
A brand must mean something and its meaning must be cherished and safeguarded. After all, the very word ‘brand’ means ‘particular identity or image regarded as an asset’. One would think there’s enough work to be done to ensure brands in the house are leaders in their segment – take the recent US$1 billion relaunch of Holiday Inn, for example – let alone come up with new brands that require capital investment and, worse, may detract the focus from existing brands.
Actually, it’s no laughing matter. And deep down, hotel chains know it.
This article was first published in TTG Asia, July 13, 2012, on page 4. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.