The emergence of soft-branded hotels
The emergence of soft-branded hotels
12 JULY 2017 6:59 AM

A soft brand provides all the comforts of a big brand while allowing a property to retain its distinct identity and feel. 

Modern-day travelers—no matter their age, gender, or respective demographic—seek hotel experiences where they can eat, drink, socialize and be entrenched in the local culture.

As a result, soft-branded hotels are gaining popularity in the hospitality marketplace, especially in unique neighborhoods such as Brooklyn, New York, Portland, Maine, and other trendy cities where standard chain hotels don’t fit the bill.

For hoteliers, soft-branded hotels allow for design flexibility and local customization that meet the evolving needs of today’s guests. They also provide the financial backing and big brand support that offers them more stability, better financing opportunities and less risk.

What makes soft-branded hotels so attractive to travelers?
Travelers today want to have a custom, localized experience that is unique and representative of the area they are visiting. They want to eat the local food, drink the local drink and revel in the curated art and décor that celebrates the local culture. They want open, collaborative spaces where they can work and play. They desire on-site coordinated activities—local brewery tours, locally sourced wine tastings, access to bikes—in which they can embrace their surroundings.

Soft-branded hotels offer consumers a property that has its own distinctive identity yet provides all of the big brand comforts like seamless reservation systems, customer loyalty programs and back-of- house operations that make their stay easy and pleasurable.

What are large brand hotels doing to capture this market?
New brands such as Tapestry by Hilton, Unbound by Hyatt, Ascend by Choice and Tribute by Marriott have emerged to capture their part of this emerging market. While remaining under a big brand umbrella of properties, soft-branded hotels are more able than a standard hotel chain on the corner to seamlessly fit into stylish cities and capitalize on being a welcoming part to the neighborhood fabric. They can also leverage the big brand standardization that allows for more security and stability.

This security does come with a cost—franchise and management fees, design criteria compliance and adherence to construction standards among the largest and most expensive. However, this big brand support system can also make financing easier for smart independent hoteliers looking to break into the market. And, the upmarket pricing that often comes with soft-branded hotels can provide more attractive economics.

Can the independent hotel still compete?
There will always be a place for independent hotels in the hospitality design landscape and the market is strong enough for both independent and soft brands to coexist. However, these independent properties have become increasingly reliant on specific geographic dynamics. For example, heavily sought-after vacation destinations like Nantucket, Massachusetts, where customers are looking for truly localized experiences, can survive on their own.

Today, smart hoteliers can have it both ways; keeping their independent spirit alive while tapping into big brand resources. This is the next evolution of hospitality design—a curated experience for modern-day guests backed by a trusted brand name.

Harry Wheeler AIA, NCARB, LEED is a principal at Group One Partners, Inc., an award-winning hospitality design firm based in Boston that specializes in architectural, interior design, and purchasing services for hospitality properties. Wheeler is a registered architect in 10 states and a member of numerous architectural, lodging, and marketing associations. For more information visit or email Wheeler at

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