HM on Location: Hunter panel weighs pros, cons of branding

In the post-pandemic hospitality industry, hotels must maintain a delicate balance between protecting brand integrity and meeting the needs of owners. During the "Brands + Owners: A 360° Perspective" breakout session at last week's Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, panelists Matt Marquis, CEO of Pacifica Hotels; T. Dupree Scovell, managing partner/chief investment officer, Woodbine Development; Talene Staab, brand leader, Home2 Suites by Hilton; Jim Tierney, SVP, development and owner relations, Hyatt Hotels; and Todd Turner, CEO of OTO Development, discussed the challenges of understanding owner and guest needs, adapting to market evolution, and prioritizing quality service and brand affiliation. 

A good portion of Pacifica’s portfolio was independent prior to Covid, but, like many other companies, they reassessed during the pandemic, said Marquis. Coming out of the pandemic, Marquis said the company felt there was a need to have credibility. The company had repositioned a major property in Hawaii, with the reasoning that guests would feel more comfortable with a reputable brand and the cleaning standards. 

“We had been looking at the soft brands and running the models, and those models were great,” he said. “We tested one and it seemed to work out. Coming out of the pandemic, we felt that there was a need to have credibility.”

Soft brands offer a good way for owners to get familiar with a brand, said Staab. "That helps get new owners and new guests to us," she continued. 

Turner said that he is a believer in the hard brands. "We are astounded by the power of our partners on simple things like a Hampton Inn—you can put them in the right places and produce phenomenal results. We know that the main drivers of why people select hotels is the location, price and reliability. This is hard brands."

Scovell believes the white space exists in the extended-stay market. "That's where we feel like we can capture some value today," he said. Although certain markets can make it challenging, since there can be an oversupply already. "You have to be thoughtful about where everything goes," he said. "Sometimes the specific brands within those [extended-stay] categories can compete, but sometimes an independent ends up making sense."

Tierney said the launching of new brands helps with catering to new guests who didn't previously have "the right fit" in a major brand. "I think they are a fantastic on-ramp for new owners," he said. "It's really about a brand that more people can do in more locations."