Hoteliers on the “Pros and cons of independence” panel at the 2016 Hotel Data Conference debated the advantages and disadvantages of independents, brands and soft brands.
Editor’s note: The moderator of the “Pros and cons of independence” panel asked each participant to specifically take one side: soft brand, brand or independent.
NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Some hoteliers prefer absolute creative freedom, others want some wiggle room in terms of creativity and others want guidelines completely laid out for them from a brand.
Hoteliers on the “Pros and cons of independence” panel at this year’s Hotel Data Conference in Nashville took a specific side and talked about why they liked their specific affiliation of choice, whether it be independent, branded or soft branded.
Independents vs. brands vs. soft brands
Panel moderator Patrick Mayock, senior director of research and development at HNN’s parent company STR, asked each panelist to start the debate by explaining the advantages of being an independent, brand or soft brand.
Eric Horodas, president and CEO of Greystone Hotels, said he likes having creative freedom with independents.
“The greatest advantage to me is the ability to be creative,” he said. “Every one of my independent hotels is different from any other hotel; … every one of my independent hotels really speaks to the location it’s in; every one of them has a theme; every one of them … creates or provides a different experience to the guest.
“I can be creative; I can be different; I can distinguish myself; and I can provide each and every one of my guests with a (unique) experience.”
Ravi Patel, president of Hawkeye Hotels, took the branded side in the debate.
“It’s great to be creative, but we like to make money,” he said. “From my perspective, branded hotels have a much easier time of pushing inventory. … We don’t have to rely on (online travel agencies), opaque channels, other discount mechanisms as much as some of our independent and soft-branded hotels do...
“And then when it comes to operations and development, there’s a playbook, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time. So when it comes to staffing models, when it comes to building new assets, architectural plans, you name it, there is a step-by-step playbook to follow, and we see our profitability is substantially higher at branded hotels than they are in the independent and soft-branded hotels.”
Gerry Chase, president and COO of Newcastle Hotels & Resorts, said he likes having creative freedom, but he also likes having the support of a brand as a soft-branded hotel.
“(With) soft brands, I get the best of both worlds,” he said. “(Being an independent) takes a lot of courage. It’s one of those areas where you can’t go halfway, you have to go all the way, and branding is certainly the easier way to go.”
What’s the story behind soft brands?
When asked if a soft brand is really just a brand, Horodas said he’s not so sure how soft brands will play out in the future as more pop up in the industry.
“I don’t think the story has been completely told yet as it relates to soft brands,” he said. “We’ve seen all of the major hotel companies get into the soft-brand arena, and they’re trying to scale up. Some of them are scaling up faster than others, but I think, ultimately, we’re going to see as they scale up, and if they’re successful with scaling up, they’ve got to become more standardized and more bureaucratic, and the creativity factor is going to start to diminish.
“That’s just my feeling and my personal prediction, but I think … once you have 50 or 100 … or 200 Autograph or Curio, (properties) or whatever it might be, they’re going to become more homogenous; they’re going to become much more bureaucratic and standardized. That’s what I see.”
Chase said a soft brand might be the same as a brand, but there’s still a lot of work that goes into sales and marketing for a soft-branded property to attract guests.
“I will tell you it’s five to six times harder to open an independent or a soft brand,” he said. “But I do have one thing that an independent doesn’t have: I still have that assurance that other properties, hopefully, if they do it right, will have some type of level of standard, that I don’t have a bunch of crap out there…”
For Patel, a soft brand is still a brand.
“You do have more flexibility and creativity as a soft brand, but at the same time, a brand is a brand is a brand,” he said.