Naming Names in the Growing Ranks of Hotel Brands

Epiphany HotelWhile there’s no magic formula for launching new hotel brands, E = mc2 best suits some recent hotel concepts. That’s because the famous physics energy equation reflects new or planned properties and brands, namely Epiphany from Joie de Vivre Hospitality, Moxy from Marriott International and Curio collection from Hilton Worldwide.

Branding was a hot topic at NYU’s International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference this week in New York, where panelists weighed in on the degree-of-difficulty factor, the rationale for launching new offerings and repositioning legacy brands. Names do matter, but they’re only part of the picture. Below are key takeaways.

Creating new brands for the long-haul: “Brand building isn’t for wimps; it’s for the persistent and patient. Most brands grow slowly, and you need to think several years out, since you’re often signing 20-year licensing agreements”, said James Anhut, SVP of design and quality at IHG/InterContinental Hotels Group.

Big hotel companies still have an edge, noted David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International. “It’s immensely difficult to start from scratch. But it’s easier for larger scale hotel companies to create smart brands that will appeal in the long run.”

Repositioning legacy brands: Well-established brands can also get new leases on life when they’re redefined and updated. An advantage for guests is that “they can stay in the same brand family”, said Anhut.

One ‘blast from the past’ is Howard Johnson’s, owned by Wyndham Worldwide. After last year’s Mad Men episode featured HoJo’s, the company focused on making the brand cool again, tapping into its retro appeal, said William Hoy, SVP development planning at Wyndham.

Offering strong brand promises and points-of-view: “Regardless of the number of properties, reputations are at stake, and these days they’re made or broken at lightspeed”, said Anhut. “So you need to be careful when offering your brand promise.”

“Strong brands have strong points-of-view, and they define the space they occupy”, added Tina Edmundson, global officer, luxury and lifestyle brands at Marriott International. The hotel company plans to launch Moxy in Milan this fall, where it will be a “smart, playful brand” in the typically dull economy tier in Europe, she explained.

Outlining numerous reasons to launch new brands: Hotel guests overall want “different choices to fill their stay occasions”, said Kirk Kinsell, president of the Americas at IHG.

“It’s a constantly evolving process to deliver on guests’ needs”, added Simon Turner, president of global development at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. “Guests take on different personas when they travel for business vs. leisure.”

Geography is often a factor, especially with unmet needs overseas. Kinsell said the lack of business travel hotels in third-tier Chinese cities led IHG to pursue this niche.

Design is one of the key ways hotel brands reflect the local surroundings, whatever the location. Each property in Hilton Worldwide’s new luxury Curio collection will showcase its unique character. While this is more like boutique hotels, here guests will also have access to Hilton’s loyalty program.

Popular trends like health and wellness also represent opportunities for new brand offerings. Many hotels have realized guests want to maintain healthy routines when they travel, so they’ve responded accordingly with healthier food and fitness options.

Shifting demographic preferences also prompt new brand launches. To attract more millennials, newer hotels now provide smaller guest rooms and larger communal spaces in lobbies and spas.

Technology is clearly a priority for existing and new brands. “It’s become a technology arms race”, said Turner, with much of the focus on mobile.

At IHG’s planned Even Hotel in Norwalk, CT, wristband-wearing guests will be able to purchase items by tapping them.

In Palo Alto, CA, The Epiphany Hotel has docking stations to wirelessly stream movies, and a dedicated technology concierge. While intended for its tech entrepreneur guests, that’s clearly an offering with broad customer appeal.

(image courtesy of The Epiphany Hotel)