Hotel Branding Is A Complete Mystery

As I mentioned previously, I’m currently on a trip with one of my best friends, Matt. He has been sharing his experiences from the trip on the blog. Here is another post from him, tackling the inconsistencies in hotel branding.

We give things names so that we can readily identify them. It’s obvious that a bike isn’t a car. And we can explain that fairly easily. Though not all that efficiently. Realistically, we’d need to explain that a car is powered by an engine and not pedals, and has four wheels instead of two (generally). By giving it a name, we avoid needless comparing and contrasting.

This is even more important when we’re not talking about the difference between a bike and a car, but between different brands of cars.  This is of course where trademark has emerged to protect against source confusion — whether intentional or otherwise.

Where consumers are concerned, however, there’s a compelling argument that a name is most important when its purpose is to distinguish between various products lines offered by the same company. This is not so much an issue of trademark as it is one of internal branding.

Just to prove my point, I’ll pose a “hypothetical.” Picture a world where people have virtually unflagging loyalty to various hotel brands of their choosing. Let’s say this is not so much because the hotels are always the best option, but because they have “loyalty programs” whereby guests who stay a certain number of times in a given year get perks like confirmable upgrade instruments, guaranteed late check-out, and lounge access and/or breakfast. I’m going to be extra indulgent and posit a world in which the hotels also give points currency that can be used to redeem free nights at any hotel within the brand.

Alright, so now that you realize this is not a hypothetical, and that many people — especially readers of this blog — patronize hotels in (large) part because of loyalty benefits offered by the brand; I’ll continue with my actual point. Many of us visit Hyatt properties precisely because they are Hyatt properties. I know I do. I love Hyatt. And I especially love Hyatt Diamond status.  Give me a suite at the Park Hyatt with room service breakfast and I’m happy as a clam — or probably happier since I actually have conscious thought!

Park Hyatt properties are fairly uniform, I think. There are certainly standouts, like Tokyo, Sydney, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Paris. And there are definitely the less GWTW properties — Mendoza and Aviara immediately come to mind. But overall the branding and the level of service are quite uniform given that the brand spans six continents.

I also think Hyatt Place is very, very uniform. Andaz properties are unified at the very least in being the most modern hotels in the portfolio, even if that only means less furniture and that weird iPad check-in bulls*!t that they do. Hyatt Regencies are somewhat uniform, although there are standouts in both directions, especially when we consider airport locations versus higher profile city center locations.

That brings us to the Grand Hyatt brand. Ben and I are currently staying at the Grand Hyatt Berlin, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I was at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong last July and that too was an excellent hotel. Both have well appointed rooms (I was in a remodeled suite at the GH Hong Kong — I understand rooms that haven’t been remodeled are a bit dated), and superb club lounges. The GH Hong Kong pours Ruinart blanc de blancs during the evening canapés service, along with other good (although not commensurately good) wines.  The GH Hong Kong has the “grand” feel. The lobby and the lounge are massive. I’d say it’s properly described as a well done Grand Hyatt.

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Grand Suite at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

Grand-Hyatt-Hong-Kong-View
View From the Bed™ (not from the wing) at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

The GH Berlin isn’t small, but it certainly feels much smaller — both in terms of its physical size and the size of the lounge, the lounge food offerings, etc. The quality of the lounge was excellent, however, and I’m certainly a quality over quantity type of guy. I’d say that the Grand Hyatt Berlin feels as much like a Park Hyatt as the Park Hyatt Dubai.

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Grand Hyatt Berlin lobby

Grand-Hyatt-Berlin-2
Club Twin Room at Grand Hyatt Berlin

Now, the premise we started with was that we give things names so that we can readily identify them. I’m confused how the Grand Hyatt properties in Berlin and Hong Kong fit with the Grand Hyatts in New York and San Antonio, for example.

Grand-Hyatt-San-Antonio-1
Grand Hyatt San Antonio

Grand-Hyatt-Bathroom
Grand Hyatt San Antonio

Grand-Hyatt-New-York
Grand Hyatt New York

How do we actually compare these hotel rooms? They both have beds and sinks and toilets. But beyond that the overlap is minimal, at best. I get that the markets are different, i.e., San Antonio is much different than Berlin or Hong Kong, but that excuse won’t suffice to distinguish New York.

I think an airline analogy is fitting.  Let’s assume United Airlines has five different 747s, and that all of them are marketed as offering United Intergalactic First (or whatever they call it). One has Emirates first suites, another has Lufthansa first seats, two have United first seats, and one has Air Tahiti Nui business class seats. But all of them are “United First.” Not helpful. At all.

I of course would check in advance and know not to book any of these except the United-Emirates or United-Lufthansa first configurations, as would most (and I hope all) blog readers. Not everyone reads OMAAT. Moreover, although they should read it, they shouldn’t have to read it to know what to expect. Nor should they need to read TripAdvisor or some other review site. After all, we gave the brand a name for a reason, right?

I’m picking on Hyatt because it’s my favorite hotel chain by far, and it’s easy to be the most critical of the ones we love. Compare the Hilton Trafalgar or Bora Bora to the Hilton Los Angeles or, better yet, Savannah, and it’s clear there’s a massive disconnect. I’m aware things cannot be perfectly “uniform” — and I don’t want the hotels be to so cookie cutter I can’t tell them apart — but it would be nice to see more consistency overall. And even though, as noted, trademark doesn’t really come into play when we’re dealing with internal branding, inconsistencies throughout a brand portfolio undoubtedly have a dilutive effect.

What hotel brand(s) do you think are best / worst at offering a consistent guest experience across multiple properties? 

Comments

  1. Four Seasons hotels are wildly inconsistent. Some are gorgeous, some were obviously decorated by my frumpy grandmama, and some are glorified Holiday Inns.

    Mandarin Oriental is my chain of choice.

  2. Matt, you’ve hit the nail on the head! I find that I cannot trust the hotel brand and usually research using both the hotel website and various review sites to ensure I’m actually getting what I want.

  3. i second Imperator. The 4S at Sydney is such a dud.

    I would argue that basically only the lowest end and highest end would be truly consistent. Things in middle market will always have a range of what they offer. Even within a hotel chain and the same category number, experiences will still wildly differ.

  4. Wait til you visit the Hyatt Regency Kyoto!

    It’s by far the best Regency in the chain and feels like a Park Hyatt.

    Go figure.

  5. i would second the comment about mandarin oriental’s consistency and add intercontinental to that. hyatt is abysmally inconsistent in my experience. granted, i don’t really give a damn as long as the bed is comfy and the a/c works — i don’t ever utilize hotel lounges or room service that much — but i’m always amazed when the hyatt regency room i stay in one week trumps the park hyatt room i stayed in the month before, etc. etc.

    also is there a worse city for major hotel brands than san francisco? i feel like no matter the brand, the room quality across the board is generally a poor representation of that brand’s offerings. thinking of the hilton on mason street as the biggest offender.

  6. The difference: International Hyatt and US Hyatt hotels. US Hyatt hotels are much cheaper. There is even a difference in costumer service at Goldpassport. The Hyatt Diamond Concierge service is designed for guests of their international hotels.

  7. Per hotel magazines, Grand Hyatt is the luxury brand for Hyatt and Park Hyatt is a sub category of this brand.

  8. Doesn’t this inconsistency probably have something to do with the fact that most of these hotels aren’t owned by the hotel chain outright, but by some local independent operator – who might operate multiple hotels under several brands? The local business is not going to be terribly concerned about meeting every last standard imposed by the chain, and the chain probably can’t do much to enforce those standards: if they push too hard, the operator switches to a different chain (or becomes an independent brand) and the chain loses presence in that locale. And the chains are all about having a presence: the whole point is that you can find a Hilton (or whatever-) branded hotel wherever you want one.

  9. Matt,

    IMHO, SPG is a better one to pick on. What’s the real difference between the Sheraton and Westin brands? Hard to tell, IMHO. I live next to two suburban SPG hotels — a Sheraton and a Westin. They share the same parking lot. For the life of me, I have no idea what the difference is.

    When hotels change flags, what’s the difference between an HGI that gets reflagged as a Sheraton 4P? Again, confusion. IMHO, the only real thing that sets HGI apart from the 4P brand are the loyalty programs. If there’s other practical differences (save me the marketing speak, please) the marketing folk are doing a crappy job.

    Airplanes are the worst, you suggest checking a site like OMAAT to see what flights are flown on what routes. More often than not, that information is subject to change. That’s why CX stand out in my book, they may not be the best at anything/everything, but they are very consistent, and pretty darn good. You can book a long haul flight and “just know” that things will be nice. Compare that to everybody else, and you’re never really quite sure… hell, even JAL went to a sub-standard J product on their 787. You’d think because it’s new, it’d be the best, but it’s not. Yes, they’re updating the product, but now you have to go check on what routes the new product is going to get phased in on and when.

  10. You also have to keep in mind where you are on the renovation schedule. If it’s renovated every 12 years and you’re at 11.5 years it’s going to look warn and dated.

  11. Aren’t a lot of hotels owned not by the chains themselves, but by separate individuals/companies? I assume that would account for at least some inconsistency. FWIW, I’m not 100% sure how this works, but I know that a lot of hotels are owned by other companies (i.e. the Waldorf in NY–still a Hilton, but not owned by Hilton).

  12. So my understanding that the difference between a HYATT, a Grand Hyatt and a Hyatt Regency is the amount of meeting and conference space. Regencies have the most, HYATTs have little to none. Grand Hyatts are somewhere in between.

  13. Don’t quality & pricing of local competition and/or local hotels of the same chain play some part in deciding on a brand for a particular hotel? For example, in Tokyo Park Hyatt is the top of the Hyatt food chain (at least, category wise*) and since they presumably don’t want two hotels of the same top-level brand nearby, category 6 properties are named Grand Hyatt and Andaz (price-wise, both can be as expensive of PH T).

    Something I find very interesting is that Hotel du Louvre in Paris is going to be re-branded as Andaz after remodeling even though it’s a historical hotel and it’s not being modernized like Andaz in Amsterdam. Perhaps Hyatt needs its own version of Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand?

    * — We slightly preferred a suite & experience of GH T over PH T.

  14. Whilst The Trafalgar is nominally a Hilton (it is listed under Hilton on the website), it does not use Hilton in its name and I think there is an attempt to separate it from its frumpier siblings. It would make more sense to drop it into Curio to be honest.

  15. My belief is that the differentiation within the brands, is logistical. The U.S. overall standard and expectation is set lower than in many other countries. This makes within country comparison far easier than within branding.

  16. I think Radisson deserves the prize for most inconsistent properties. Domestically, they’re near bottom-of-the-barrel of where our employees will stay. The Radisson O’Hare comes to mind. It has decent beds, nice but small bathrooms, good showers, but there’s no mistaking it’s an older hotel that’s changed flags a few times.

    Contrast that to the Radisson in Cartagena, Colombia. Absolutely stunning property. If I didn’t know any better I would have assumed the building was meant to be condos. Rooms that’d make Lucky drool, good service, great views. It’s hard to believe the two properties are even related.

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