Focusing on Hospitality Made the Taco Bell Hotel So Successful

The activation garnered 4.4 billion impressions and was a "100% a brand engagement moment."

Jennifer Arnoldt at Brandweek
Five thousand articles were written about the Taco Bell Hotel.
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

Pool floats resembling hot sauce packets, manicures with the word “Fire!” on nails, and even a Mountain-Dew inspired Baja Blast drink—these were just a few of visitors’ favorite things at the Taco Bell Hotel.

The brand activation, produced in partnership with Edelman and United Entertainment Group, garnered 4.4 billion impressions from the event, with more than 5,000 articles written by media outlets (including Adweek). Jennifer Arnoldt, senior director, retail engagement at Taco Bell, explained the hotel’s success is completely thanks to the brand’s fans and how Taco Bell approached the entire event.

“It was this community of rad people just wanting to hangout with the brand,” Arnoldt said in conversation with Josh Sternberg, tech and brands editor at Adweek at Brandweek. “This was 100% a brand engagement moment.”

Considering Taco Bell fans get married at Taco Bell’s Cantina location in Las Vegas or propose to each other with Taco Bell’s sauce packets that say “Marry Me,” it’s no mystery why the Taco Bell Hotel sold out in two minutes. The Taco Bell Hotel wasn’t the brand’s first unconventional activation; Taco Bell previously collaborated with Forever 21 in 2017 to debut a limited edition clothing line. These types of activations are key to how Taco Bell’s thinking about the brand and engaging consumers, Arnoldt said. She noted visitors from 21 states, one couple who canceled their honeymoon in Prague and even a unique bachelorette party.

'For us, this was not a look at how fun we are. We’re in the hospitality business and we’re going to go after it like the big boys.'
Jennifer Arnoldt, senior director, retail engagement, Taco Bell

As the Taco Bell team thought about building the experience, Arnoldt explained, they set some specific parameters: no promotion around a product—this was strictly about the hotel experience, and a website that wouldn’t crash for reservations with the goal of guests to feel like it was an experience for them and no one else. To do so, Arnoldt kept the team small and listened to the team members to ensure the brand wasn’t missing out on ideas—or executing strategies that weren’t on brand.  For example, the team came up with the possibility of giving day passes to anyone who wanted to attend. But, then they realized, it could cause issues for guests who paid to have a room, like not having immediate access to use the hot sauce pool floats.

“It goes agains this idea of hospitality for our fans if they have to fight for a chair,” Arnoldt said.

Hospitality operated as the brand’s “North Star,” ensuring that hotel guests received free breakfast room service and had all their requests granted. It’s why Taco Bell didn’t solely invite influencers or media.

“We have an opportunity to get people out of their homes—how do we get them to have an experience in those restaurants?” Arnoldt said. “For us, this was not a look at how fun we are. We’re in the hospitality business and we’re going to go after it like the big boys.”

Arnoldt remained mum on whether the Taco Bell Hotel will happen again, saying only that the brand operates on a “limited time only” basis with its products. For now, this too, was only for a “limited time.”

“It was this amazing moment for our fans,” Arnoldt said. “The people that came felt special and were treated that way.”

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