What is The Future of the Large Hotel Brand?

It was the turn of the New Year, London was about to get baltic, I’d worked my arse off over Christmas and wanted out. A winter escape to save my soul but this time, I bravely turned to the good old ‘All Inclusive’.  You know the ones; queuing for the toast wheel, towels on sunbeds at the crack of dawn and a rather plump, shiny-faced man with a Bontempi playing Agadoo with gusto at 9pm sharp on a nightly basis.

Cue audacious traveller turning up nose.

In my defense, choices are limited when you only have a week, a certain budget and you want to do absolutely nothing. We chose a fairly well known company in Morrocco whose branding reflected that of a petrol garage. Everything from the signage, to the little boxed shower cap was fastidiously stamped with it’s brash, bright and uninspiring logo. It’s style was far from what it should be, and a million miles away from the true philosophy and character of this Spanish chain.

The staff culture was reminiscent of Butlins circa 1984 was almost refreshing, albeit in your face. Everyone from the reception, guest liaison, pool buddies and bar staff were flying the Iberoro flag. They were friendly, fun and professional at all times.  They certainly deserved a better standing brand behind them to back them up.

During the stay, I was amazed at what can only be described at the sheer imprisonment a large chain hotel brand must experience and it got me thinking. 

Has the hotel industry lost touch completely?

Have they lost control of it’s customers for good? 

How will they scrape back the power and data it needs to improve? 

And is it possible?

Diluted Institution

Each large corporate hotel brand has its own diluted institution that may have worked in the 80s, even the 90s, but is currently in series need of a rebrand. They play safe, they don’t dare upset anyone, they don’t want to stand out too much because sitting on the fence doesn’t alienate anyone right?  Again, an antiquated approach that I believe is holds them back.

Think about it. Do they really know whether their efforts are applauded? How do they actually know whether guests have welcomed the hotel and all that it has to offer? Who actually fills out the little anonomous forms and posts them in their ballot box before they leave? And how can one really trust a Trip Advisor review?

Only a very small percentage of customers book direct with hotels nowadays, most shop around and book a deal through a digital agent. So the hotel loses the power struggle. The agent wins. They know a whole lot more about us guests than the actual hotel does so how can the hotel compete once again?

Clearly, the old fashioned way still works for some. A few folk in our resort that didn’t care that theme tune to Titanic (the pan piped version) had been played five times in one morning. Some thought that the potatoes at dinner were a ‘continental’ recipe, not undercooked and dripping in oil – and some didn’t care that the ‘morning yoga’ was not yoga at all, but a gentle stretch on all fours on the floor. They were satisfied. They were happy to join in. They didn’t have to cook, clean up, they could fill their faces until they were about to burst then go and sleep it off in the sun. Life was good.

But the large chain hotels are slowly being coerced by a new breed, that has been slowly emerging over the last decade and these guys have learnt by their predocessors mistakes. 

The ‘boutique’ army of hotels know how to brand themselves. The difference being, and this is key – they aren’t selling to everyone. They sell to smaller, niche markets and sell out. It’s safe and clever. This also enables 100% worth of passion to be put behind the brand, and in turn the service. Which breeds a new army of repeat business and a new era of hospitality.

Look at the power of the travel blogger. They are serious hardcore travel writers who seek out things to do, places to go that they love –  making it easy for likeminded readers to seek them out and follow suit. A new hierarchy of global community broadcasting. Giving you the heads-up, guidance and tips on things to try and things to avoid. 

We now have a new breed of media that speaks truths, and writes in a relative way which appeases the more intelligent, brave and out of the box, contemporary traveller who searches for a lot more out of their holiday.

So the question is, can a large hotel chain ever compete? Or is it reminiscent of Sainsbury’s vs. the independent grocer? How can they learn about thei customers? How can they improve what is actually going on inside their business? How can they survive?

I believe they have two choices. One, they take a leaf out of Madonna’s book and reinvent themselves. They transform their tired methods, style and approach into a hospitality business that caters for the modern day traveller.

Or two, forget branding altogether. Accept that they are stuck and play to their strengths. They are in fact, a large oversized complex near a beach with a pool, offering food, shelter and the odd bit of toe curling entertainment. There will always be a market for it right?  Well – at least for the next 20 years.   

Soon I will be an ‘older style’ traveller. Ahem. And the titanic-loving creatures of habit that have passed before me will most certainly be in the minority if not completely extinct. But until that sudden transplant from requiring the ‘exceptional’, to settling for ‘whatever’, I will continue to strive for better and I leave the large hotel brands with this;

Know who you are and direct your communications accordingly. Don’t hide from the truth and above all, don’t waste the time you have with your precious customer. Speak their language. Befriend them. Understand them. Love them. Give them the world.

Enough so they come rushing back.