Whether it’s by developing enticing incentive programs or pushing into uncharted markets, hoteliers and big hotel brands are constantly adapting to the ever-changing hospitality market. But there’s one strategy that has seemingly exploded in the last few years: the use of soft brands.
What Are “Soft Brands”
Simply put: they’re independently branded properties that are discreetly affiliated with a larger hotel chain. What do we mean by discreet? Soft brands have their own name (i.e. Autograph Collection Hotels), their own identity, their own niche in the hospitality market. And when you see or hear about a soft brand collection, you probably wouldn’t realize that it’s affiliated with a larger parent company (i.e. Marriott International). So what’s the point of this hybrid model of hotel branding?
The Perks of Being a Soft Brand
The main reason that hotel collections jump on-board with major hotel brands, is to share in the chain’s referral network and benefits. Think about it: Marriott (now merged with Starwood Hotels & Resorts) has a MASSIVE network of guests. Through soft branding, these small collections are able to tap into this network (for a fee) and offer the same rewards and benefits as a major Marriott property, without conforming to Marriott’s look and feel. If you’re thinking, okay it makes sense that small hotels want the benefits of a major chain…but why does a major chain care about small hotels?
Two Words: Consumer Changes
Rather than looking for a cushy hotel, travelers now want authentic, local experiences. And they’re turning to companies like Airbnb to get them. Major chains like Marriott and Hilton have noticed this shift, and have responded with soft brands. Smaller, boutique hotels with seemingly no affiliation to large brands are able to have their own unique, local identity and offerings. They essentially “underbrand” the major hotel chain and, in turn, appeal to the new traveler psychographic. At the same time, they still benefit the major chain’s rewards customers looking for a Marriott or Hilton-affiliated property.
We’ve mentioned Marriott’s Autograph Collection quite a bit, but there’s a whole slew of successful soft brands out there. For example, the SureStay Collection by Best Western is a unique collection of properties with a luxurious focus, something typically not associated with a Best Western. The Tapestry Collection by Hilton focuses on the eccentric spirit of local cities and Hyatt’s Unbound Collection provides upper-upscale stays for guests.
Soft brands have proven to be successful in the past, and continue to show success today. As a traveler, would you prefer to stay in a soft branded boutique hotel, or a well-known big brand property?
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