Independents get their day in the sun

Stephanie Ricca

Stephanie RiccaI was never what you would call the sorority type. In college I was what people referred to as a GDI, or, ahem, “gosh-darn independent.” My other non-sorority friends and I shared a house and we adopted a logo for our door of a big wheel of cheese. Get it? The cheese stands alone, ha ha. Mind you, there were a lot of benefits to sorority life. I could certainly see the appeal but it just wasn’t right for me.

Fast forward to the present, and some of the most compelling conversations I’ve had with others in the hotel industry recently have been on the brands vs. independents topic. I’ve moderated several panels at events this year that touched on this theme and we’ve run what seems like more than the usual number of articles on the topic (for example, check out the On Finance column on page 14), so I have had the chance to meet a lot of people with opinions on this particular subject. I’m not surprised that the issues surrounding branding hotels vs. going independent is a hot topic; when times are good in the industry we hear success stories from a lot of segments and niches.

But lately it feels like the stars really are aligning for independent hotels. In my opinion it’s the result of a couple factors converging: First, we know that consumer travel trends show that guests like unique experiences and want something that doesn’t conform to cookie-cutter norms. Second, we know that the construction and operating margins for limited-service hotels in the midscale to upscale segments are strong right now—and that’s where a lot of independent hotels sit. And third—probably most importantly—there’s a level of transparency in the hotel industry like never before, which has forced people across all segments of the business to get educated on all sorts of new topics. Owners know more about operations. Operators know more about capital stack structure. Architects and designers know more about management and ownership, and goodness knows everyone knows more about guest likes (and dislikes) than they probably want to know.

Plus, technology makes it easier for hoteliers to go it alone. Constantly evolving revenue-management tools, distribution systems and property-management systems simplify operations, and free marketing and metrics tools—like social media—contribute to a more level playing field.

Now, make no mistake, franchised and membership brands still preside over a strong dynasty here in the United States and that’s not changing any time soon. But I’m seeing a quiet revolution gaining traction in the midscale to upscale independent space. I’m not talking about economy or luxury, where independent ownership has long had strong footholds. I’m talking about those hotels in the sweet spot. They have powerful marketing and sales, loyal customers, savvy operators and owners willing to invest. They’re in primary markets, but they’re in plenty of secondary markets too—and they have what a lot of franchise brands want most: Authenticity. Independent hotels are what they are. They’re not pretending to be something else. Some investors and guests see that as risky; others see it as an asset. I see it as an incredibly interesting time in the hotel industry to observe how these major concepts play out.

 “Independent hotels have what a lot of franchise brands want most: Authenticity.”

 

Hotel Management to launch a series of three webinars on independent hotels

Since we’ve noticed the growing interest in coverage of independent hotels, we’re launching a series of three webinars starting this month that will offer the latest trends and best practices for operating in today’s independent hotel landscape. So independent hoteliers—and anyone else who wants to get into the head of this growing segment—save the following dates:

* Oct. 29: Distribution Tips and Tricks

* Nov. 18: Acting Big, Staying Small

* Dec. 17: What Your Brand Says About You

Visit www.hotelmanagement.net for registration information or drop me an email and I’ll send it to you. We have a great lineup of speakers for these webinars and I know you’ll come away with some useful tips and resources.

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