Matching the hotel brands with its parent top ten global hotel group should not be a difficult task. Asking a group of individuals that are knowledgeable about the hotel industry should make the task simple. In practice, perhaps not quite that easy.
Major hotel groups continuously pitch the strength of their brand positioning when soliciting management and franchise agreements to hotel owners. The brands are positioned relative to the competition, markets segmented to align prototype properties with highly attractive traveler personas, and lots of image-rich language glowingly portrays the brand as a perfect fit for the prospect.
From a consumer perspective, the distinctions may not be so clear. As demonstrated by the travel/hotel wonks that tend to follow this blog, when asked to match the 100 hotel brands to their parent top 10 global hotel groups, answers were not clear-cut.
While the sample size and methodology can in no way be claimed to be statistically significant, comprehensive, or even scientific, there are some clear indications that hotel branding relationships could use some work. The average score wound up being a miserable C-.
This was despite simplifying the test with easy questions allowing one to match the “Best Western”, “Hilton”, “Hyatt”, “Marriott” and “Wyndham” brands to the “Best Western”, “Hilton”, “Hyatt”, “Marriott” or “Wyndham” hotel groups. The two individuals tied with the highest score of 94 out of 100 still missed 6% of the questions.
Considering the scale of fees extracted to support brand advertising, the full group of 100 brands scoring only just over 70% on their parent brand relationships raises serious questions. First, is if the positioning of these hotel brands within a parent hotel group is critical to the success of the member properties, and second,
Given the asset-light strategy employed by virtually all the major hotel groups, if the other shoe were to drop and hotels started questioning the value of the brand identities, hotel groups now lack a large group of owned properties to serve as an anchor to their portfolios. Without clear-cut competitive advantages or product differentiators, franchise and/or management agreement renewals tend to gravitate toward discussions of fee levels.
For the publicly held hotel groups, lowering fee levels – which negatively impact margins, represent a major red-flag for institutional investors. Pressure is compounded by the share growth of online travel agencies and increased online distribution. What happens if OTAs or publisher-backed soft brands begin to become more important to guests than traditional multi-brand hotel groups?
The Hotel Brand Explosion
Hotel Group Performance
For the vast majority of the large, well-established, global hotel brands, parent affiliations were clearly understood. However, this is not the immediate battleground for most hotel groups. Instead, most are focused on expanding the number and property count of their new hotel brands.
As opposed to commenting on all the brands where the affiliations were well known (that should be the expectation), the focus will be on those brands scoring at the low end of the spectrum.
Aside from the two year old MGallery soft-branded collection of independent properties, Accor’s member brands were largely recognized by the respondents.
When presented alone, the “Premier” tier of Best Western’s branding is not readily associated with the brand. It may be safe to assume that the perception of Best Western is stronger than the designation for its upscale product line.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Carlson brand portfolio wound up scoring the lowest degree of recognition among the top 10 global brands – 58%. While it is understandable that the new Radisson Red and Quorvus Collection brands, both launched in 2014, have not yet become established, the Country Inns & Suites brand founded in 1987, was also rarely associated with its parent.
Unlike Carlson, Choice cold not point to newly announced brands pulling down its average – neither the Rodeway and MainStay Suites brands, both established in the 1990’s were associated with Choice, nor were the Cambria Suites or Suburban brands (launched in 2007 & 2005 respectively). Like many other soft-branded groupings, the Ascend Collection was also often orphaned.
The newly launched Canopy brand and Curio brands may not have attained top of mind awareness as Hilton brands, but most of the other brands have. The rare exception was the slow-starting extended-stay Home2 brand, now in its fifth year. This may reflect a pattern, as Hilton’s 15 year-old extended-stay Homewood Suites brand only attained a middling score.
Hyatt’s two new all-inclusive brands, the adults-only Zilara and Family oriented Ziva, both opening this month were virtual unknowns. Andaz, now seven years old, still seems to lack identification with Hyatt as its parent.
It’s logical that some may have missed the news of Kimpton’s acquisition by Intercontiental, and the new Even brand is still unknown, but the respondents sadly failed to recognize the decade-old triumvirate of Candlewood, Indigo and Staybridge as belonging to IHG – that’s not a good thing.
With a total of sixteen brands, Marriott won in the quantity department. Its new brands – including Ian Schrager’s Edition, Moxy and Protea, as well as the slightly older acquisitions AC and Gaylord are generally not known as Marriott brands. Better, yest still somewhat average scores were attained for the still often overshadowed, SpringHill and TownPlace brands.
The hotel group with the most recognized brand affiliations was Starwood – scoring 86%. The brands pulling down the average were Le Meridien and the Luxury Collection soft-brand, with St. Regis scoring slightly higher. All other Starwood brands were widely recognized, scoring over 90%.
Narrowly losing out to Carlson by only two points (at 60%), in the low score competition, was Wyndham. [Brand] Garden and [Brand] Grand appeared to be frequently confused with Hilton Garden Inn and Grand Hyatt. However, unique and comparatively well established brands, Baymont, Days Inn, Microtel and Tryp all scored failing grades below 60%, while Howard Johnson, Knights Inn and Super 8 were close behind, attaining D level scores. Without any new brands launched or acquired since 2010, if Carlson’s two brands launched in 2014 were removed from consideration, Wyndham would have had the lowest score.
The table below includes each of the 100 brands surveyed, grouped by parent hotel chain, including the year that the brand and that chain were first paired. A letter grade is also provided – this grade reflects a straight grading of the success rate of the respondents from the Hotel Brand Matching Test. The scale was 90+% = A, 80+% = B, 70+% = C, 60%+ = D and below 60% = F.
NOTE: The term [Brand] was used as a variable when the hotel chain name was used in the hotel brand name.
Here are the results, by brand and parent chain:
|[Brand] Plus||Best Western||B||2011|
|[Brand] Premier||Best Western||D||2002|
|Best Western||Best Western||A||1946|
|[Brand] Garden Inn||Hilton||A||1996|
|Holiday Inn Express||IHG||A||2003|
|All Brands – Aggregate||Average||C-|
From a personal perspective, I also took the test – scoring only 97 – unable to correctly match three hotels correctly to their parent chains, despite having created the test myself… The hotel guests never stood a chance.