Saturday, January 8, 2011

What does a hotel brand really mean?

Does that seem a weird question? Probably so but what I am trying to say is, does the logo over the door actually mean, or importantly guarantee anything? Is it saying ‘This is a Hilton, Holiday Inn, Four Seasons or whatever and this means you should expect and get what that brand markets?

This question is borne from spending many years trying to truly understand and make sense of the hospitality industry. It is a vital sector yet commentators and industry bodies barely notice it when compared to say airlines. What does make it so very different? And why should anyone need to care?

I think the difference is ownership hence my original question. You see there are quite a few different ownership scenarios within a single brand. Because a hotel displays say Hilton over the door does not mean it is owned by Hilton. Very often it is owned by someone completely different but Hilton has the management or marketing contract to run it and is employed by the owner to deliver an agreed profit. They are an employee of the owner and have to act accordingly.

So what I am saying is that if you negotiate with a hotel chain you may not be speaking to someone who has absolute control over policy, inventory or pricing with all their properties. Hence you can find yourself in a position where various properties opt out of some commercial agreements which are good for the whole family but not for them. It is a bit like a global TMC who has to sacrifice profit in one location to deliver a good deal in other countries. Most TMCs have had to come to terms with this but I do not think hotels have.

The issue becomes even more convoluted when you are dealing with hotel consortiums. These are mainly pure marketing organisations where hotels (of a certain comparable quality) link their properties to an umbrella brand in order to take on the big boys and achieve global coverage. Again, this does not mean that such consortiums can tell these hotels what to do as far as pricing and inventory is concerned.

Probably still the most influential person in any hotel is its General Manager who can, and do, instruct their reservations office to close out heavily discounted negotiated corporate rates if they think they can sell for more. Even worse for the bigger corporations is when their travellers tell them that the hotel ‘price at the door’ is cheaper than that negotiated by their procurement department. Sounds familiar?

Another side effect of confused and disparate ownership is the woeful lack of management information you get fro the hotel industry. The only really useful thing IATA does for airlines is it provides a standardised language and reporting base that is essential for meaningful information. Hotels do not have this type of global format hence they all do things in different ways. You really would be shocked by how little they know about their customers and what they spend.

So what am I trying to say? I am advising all buyers to find out exactly what control/ownership of key properties a chain or consortium has. Maybe you should insist on key contract clauses like last room availability and lowest price on the day. Perhaps require countersignature by the GMs of the main hotels confirming they understand and support the contract. Finally, why not think of ways to make your oh so wise travellers become willing watchdogs by actively encouraging them to test the system. You know how they love it so!

By the way, I have mentioned a few hotel brands in this post. This has been purely for general illustrative purposes only and does not imply that I was refering directly to them.

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