Independents vs. brands a true David and Goliath tale

(A painting of David battling the giant Goliath)

Pardon the interruption. Well, not mine, but brand upstarts looking to more effectively capture the imagination and wallet share of travelers. 

With the hotel cycle peaking, it’s that time where independent-minded hoteliers declare they don’t need big brands to succeed in getting guests to pay premium prices for their rooms. Nope, they can handle it all on their own. Or can they?

That’s the big-money question, and something that lies squarely between absolute truth and unbridled fantasy. Or is that confidence and hubris? No matter, it’s all the same story. The bigger the hotel companies, the more dominant they loom over the travel horizon. Yet, that doesn’t deter the maverick upstarts who know they built a better guest trap. Of course, that ineffable quality is requisite for those looking to break free from the brand mold and forge their own hospitality destiny. 

It’s one of the things I love most about this business; that duality between big and small. An innate David vs. Goliath spirit permeates the core of this business, pushing us inexorably forward into the future.

Renegades and Standard Bearers

First, we need to admit something: We are not the best industry at innovation. But the hotel business does excel at being a world chockablock full of dreamers and risk takers that push and prod the laggards forward one innovation at a time, whether it’s welcome or not.  Without the independent-minded hotelier, I suspect we’d all still be sleeping under that weird golden-hued velour-like blanket thing pressed between a bizarre never-washed flowery bedspread and a scratchy sheet. 

The independent-minded hotelier pokes us and wakes us up to newer ideas. The major brands do their part, too, turning innovation into industry standards. It’s the natural order of the hospitality universe—pitting the renegades against the standard bearers, and in the end everyone – especially guests – comes out a winner. 

That dichotomy between the independent hotelier and the big brand flags serves as a critical yin-yang pushing the hotel industry to be better. The hungry independent is constantly looking for a unique hook to capture that guest at a premium price. The major brand takes smaller-scale, proven ideas and rolls them out to thousands of hotels. 

Hand with the word stop written on it

Lifestyle Overload

Lately, the independents have awakened the industry to adapt new experiential designs based on locality, they set the stage for those activated lobbies everyone talks about, and they’re busy tinkering with ways to leverage technology to enhance guest interaction with the property and between themselves. Sheesh, without the independents, the major hotel companies would never have created “lifestyle” hotels and then overuse the phrase to the point it’s meaningless. Yes, Virginia, all hotels are lifestyle hotels these days. 

And without the modern-day independent-minded hotelier, the industry wouldn’t be experiencing such great times as we are here in the spring of 2016. How’s that? Their influence has forced the industry’s hand to be the best it can possibly be, which in turn gets people excited about hotel experiences and traveling more. 

Again I say “lifestyle hotels,” which has now changed to mean “millennial-focused” brands. Yes, they are the same thing! Disagree? Tell me why, please. 

Who Needs Whom?

Now back to that initial question: Do the independent hoteliers need the big brands? Not to cheat by playing both sides, but I am doing just that. Yes, and no. 

Major hotel companies stoke the desire of the independent hoteliers, fueling them with ideas to do things differently. And in some cases the Big Boys are very helpful in delivering guests to the door through their soft brands. 

Everyone needs each other. It’s the perfect combination (and my chance to use some really outdated references), just like Martin and Lewis, Nichols and May, Phil Rizutto and The Money Store. 

So here’s to the disruptors: They make each and every one of us better and smarter at what we do.

Dislike disruptors? Do I have it all wrong, or maybe I nailed it? Let me know at [email protected] or on Twitter and Instagram @TravelingGlenn.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.