Why the hospitality industry could learn a thing or two from George Costanza

In its run as one of the most memorable and successful TV sitcoms of all time, you’d be hard-pressed to find a show with more harebrained advice and observations than what “Seinfeld” served up to audiences for almost a decade. There was Jerry and his piercing observations; Kramer’s abnormal charm; Elaine’s jocular allure—but it was George, many would argue, who made the show what it was. That his character was based on real-life show creator Larry David, who went on to entertain America in his hit HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” helps you understand why “Seinfeld” continues to rack up viewers and new acolytes in syndication.

While George was a boorish, somewhat dimwitted character, to be sure, sometimes he made good. George was known to be a habitual screw-up, but in one episode he makes a rather bold decision: to do exactly the opposite of what he’d normally do. So instead of tuna on toast, it’s chicken salad on rye. So on and so forth. The conversation prompts the sagacious Jerry to quip: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” To which George replies, “Yes, I will do the opposite.” Comedy gold ensues.

I use the “Seinfeld” reference to illustrate something rarely seen in the hospitality space: mavericks. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and as I see it, there’s way too much of that in hospitality. Too much doing the same thing as everyone else. From the boutique design craze to communal lobby areas and curved shower rods (OK, those actually have utilitarian value). And lest we forget the newest trend: coaxing customers to book direct by skipping over intermediaries. A large hotel company like Hilton Worldwide launches its “Stop Clicking Around” campaign, and others then follow suit with a book-direct promotion of their own. The hotel industry can sure be a lockstep business.

So imagine my shock when a hotel company not only doesn’t follow suit, it does the opposite. That’s the tack Red Lion Hotels Corporation took when it announced a newly enhanced partnership by which Expedia.com and Hotels.com will offer RLHC’s Hello Rewards’ member-only rates to existing program members as well as those who opt to sign up for Hello Rewards via either website. While both Expedia.com and Hotels.com will continue to offer RLHC’s standard rates at the hotel company’s 114 properties in the U.S. and Canada, travelers who choose the Hello Rewards rate receive the benefits of the hotel program as well as Expedia+ and Hotels.com Rewards loyalty points.

Here’s a quote from Red Lion CMO Bill Linehan that I want to call out; one that strikes the common-sense chord: “Who has a greater ubiquity of inventory than the OTAs and so aren’t I better off marketing within that marketplace and utilizing that as one part of my marketing strategy?” A Hilton channel manager just blew a gasket somewhere.

I have to give it to Linehan and Red Lion: They are certainly going against the grain with their move. And whether they are shooting themselves in the foot or about to strike gold remains to be seen. Who cares! They are being nonconformists, and in an industry full of mimics, I, for one, applaud them.

The sea of sameness is a waterway I hope dries up. Hotel companies and their brands are ultimately cannibalizing one another by aping each other. While the larger companies might be able to get away with it (think Marriott, Hilton) others, like Red Lion, who don’t have the breadth of product, don’t have the luxury of being the same. That’s why doing the opposite, on occasion, is the right instinct to have. Sometimes, it pays to be like George.