Hotels seek out brand partnerships to enrich guest experience and ROI

Joining forces with national and international brands separate from the hospitality business is nothing new for hotels. It’s also a marketing tactic that’s seeping beyond the borders of traditional lodging. Consider Airbnb, which earlier this year tapped into Irish beer brewer Guinness on a global contest that ultimately gave away a night for two inside the brewery’s Dublin storehouse.

Branding partnerships historically have been the domain of luxury hotels that want to reinforce their lofty reputations by tying into another well-established brand that shares a common clientele. In 2011, JW Marriott announced partnerships with auctioneer Christie’s and luggage manufacturer Tumi. Since then, other partnerships have flourished. Rancho Valencia, a Relais & Chateaux property, in San Diego, teamed with Porsche to allow guests to test drive the sports cars; meanwhile, the St. Regis Washington D.C. unveiled a personal shopping service for guests in conjunction with Neiman Marcus.

Deals Without Borders

These alliances often have strong cross-promotional benefits, but they aren’t direct incentives for guests to book a room, nor to buy the partners’ goods or services. The Hyatt Regency Trinidad forged a longstanding relationship with Panama’s flag carrier Copa Airlines in 2008 when the airline launched service between Panama and the southernmost Caribbean island and the hotel hosted a Columbian Food Festival. “Such partnerships assist the Hyatt Regency Trinidad team achieve the desired goal of being the one place in Trinidad where you can experience authentic culture and cuisine from different countries,” said Charlaine Montano, the hotel’s director of sales.

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But the partnership doesn’t simply lend authenticity to the hotel’s efforts to position itself as cosmopolitan; it also serves both travel suppliers’ business objectives. The collaboration allows the hotel to host international dancers, artists and chefs for their festivals—which also include events promoting Cuba, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico—while giving Copa an opportunity to promote more of its routes. Each of the countries’ respective embassies have also been involved in hosting the festivals and thanks to the Mexican Embassy’s participation, Corona saw an opportunity to promote the Mexican beer to restaurant patrons and hotel guests at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad. The successful alliance with Copa also helped the hotel ink a deal with United Airlines in order to host Texas and New Orleans events.

Preventing Housekeeping Theft

Destination Hotels, one of Two Roads Hospitality’s soft brands, teamed up with lifestyle fragrance company Nest, to introduce a new line of bath products in its guestrooms in 2015. It was Nest’s first deal with a hotel company, so there was no pre-fab line of hotel guest toiletries available and that was one of the reasons the soft brand selected the fragrance group.

Knowing that CEO and Founder Laura Slatkin is renowned in the fragrance industry and that Nest was fast becoming an established brand in major East Coast cities and to some extent, Los Angeles—particularly among Nordstrom and Saks shoppers—Ashley Collins, Destination’s VP of strategic sourcing and supply chain said, “We wanted an amenity line that guests would only see in our hotels and resorts in order to enhance the uniqueness of the stay; we feel we introduced a whole new customer to Nest, so it’s had great cross-over.”

Over the course of 10 months, the two companies worked together on one-of-a-kind packaging and scents that are exclusive to Destination Hotels. The products as well as Nest candles are sold in the hotel retail shops as is a travel kit that was not originally slated for Destination’s line of Nest products, but Collins explained that: “We developed the travel kit based on guest feedback telling us that they wished we would sell the products so they didn’t have to rob the housekeeping cart because that was happening.”

Both businesses have benefited from the resulting ROI; merchandising Nest amenities on property has helped drive more traffic to the hotels’ retail outlets and spas, while the travel kits have proved as hits for hotel wedding and bachelorette parties. And it doesn't end with guests: Destination Hotels’ employees receive discounts off Nest products during the holiday season. Additional Nest lines are also under consideration for Destination’s urban properties as well as their mountain resorts.

Siren Song Hotels

But incorporating outside brands into the hotel experience isn’t always a matter of partnerships, a point that Jimmy Buffett illustrated when he translated his hit song "Margaritaville" into a chain of retail stores, restaurants and hotels and casinos. For fans, the song represented the ideal of Buffett’s laid-back lifestyle: boating, fly fishing, flip flops and friends who are both rock stars and deck hands.

The first emulation of the song came in the form of a small Key West bar. “That was the only physical manifestation of Margaritaville before we started rolling out hotels and restaurants,” said Pat McBride, CEO of Vermont design firm The McBride Company, which has been working with Margaritaville Holdings for more than 15 years. After the first Margaritaville restaurant opened at Universal Studios Orlando, a series of product followed suit, including Margaritaville Tequila and Rum and Landshark Beer.

“Having established the basis of the brand from these various products, people tried to emulate the casual lifestyle and that’s when it evolved to the world of hotels and resorts,” McBride added.

Nonetheless, McBride and his team keep to a ratio of 65 percent of signature elements, such as the 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill and color palettes, when crafting a new hotel location and 35 percent local flavor. So when the Margaritaville Hollywood Resort opened in Florida in 2015, it included the first JWB Steakhouse and a flip-flop sculpture in the lobby that came about as a whimsical suggestion of the CEO; it has helped the resort gain social media acclaim.

“Trends are good in the long term and I think Margaritaville is something that everyone wants,” said McBride. “Who doesn’t want to escape to an island, lay on the beach and relax with a book?”