Since their inception, hotel chains’ original strategy was to create brands associated to certain standards. For instance, if a guest stayed at a Marriott in New York, the goal was to ensure he’d feel the same way as if he’d stayed at a Marriott in Tokyo, and vice versa. A specific set of services, such as design, quality of attention and price range is supposed to be similar in each hotel as well.
At the time, there were also a large number of independent hotels in operation. Usually, these smaller hotels were owned and operated by families and had some sort of historic component that represented uniqueness, individuality and authenticity: they stood out because of their design, location or distinct features.
As the hospitality industry continued to evolve big hotel chains grew, and the number of independent hotels increased…. some people sought standardization while others craved uniqueness.
While the generation that grew up with big hotel chains appreciated standards, luxury and practicality, those are no longer the norms in the minds of the modern traveler. Millennial travelers value experiences, stories and uniqueness above all other features.
This is why soft brands offer a good alternative for all. These hotels combine standards of excellence with the unique stories of independent hotels. Soft brands allow individuality and new ways to surprise the customer while also giving big brands a modern and trendy edge as they adapt to new generations of customers who crave uniqueness.
The concept of soft brands becomes more common as you go higher in the luxury and service scales. High-scale companies started this trend with brands like The Luxury Collection, Leading Hotels of the World, and the Autograph Collection: hotels with certain standards that provided high quality service while remaining unique. Think of it as a seal of approval by a respected entity that tells the customer: “this hotel is worth it. We’ve reviewed it for you, and it meets our standards of excellence.”
However, it’s important to highlight that the luxury sector is just the beginning of the trend. I foresee a whole new array of soft brands in the future, that could endorse collections for niche markets: eco- friendly collections, wellness, pet-friendly, and the list could go on and on.
I personally think this is a particularly interesting market and that the concept of soft brands is just getting started!