Although independent hoteliers can exercise more creative liberties, the names they choose for their properties should still be rooted in time, history or place.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The guest experience in a boutique hotel often comprises a storytelling element, and that story begins with the hotel’s name, according to sources.
“It’s about differentiation. How are you going to name this property so that it has some differentiation from all the clutter that’s out in the marketplace right now?” said Todd Leach, group account director for Dedica Group, which specializes in creative brand solutions for the hospitality sector.
“You have to balance that with something that has meaning. … Because you’re independent (the hotel’s name) should have a little bit more meaning. It’s got to have more in-depth meaning to that particular property or owner or story or something of that nature … whereas a large flag can come up with a really cool name, and who knows what it means?” he said.
That’s precisely how the owners of the former Governor Hotel in Portland, Oregon, approached renaming the property. In March, the hotel’s name was changed to Sentinel, inspired by the robotic architectural sculptures—called sentinels—that look out across the city from atop the building.
“What we usually do is we try to create a story around a hotel—something that will give you reason when you go back home, when you talk about it to your spouse, with your friends, and really leave you with a good memory,” said Bashar Wali, president of Provenance Hotels, which owns and manages the Sentinel. “And we try to come up with something that’s not random. In this case, it was done thoughtfully and after a lot of extensive research.”
“We looked at the history behind these two buildings that make up the hotel, and we thought there’s so many stories here, there’s so much more going on than the name Governor would indicate,” said Kate Buska, director of public relations for Provenance.
“The process isn’t just, ‘Let’s pick a name; let’s figure out a story,’” Wali said. “How do we make this stand out? Once an idea starts developing, you start thinking about the names—and having done the homework on the history of the building because the idea is to celebrate, not hide from, the history of the building.”
On 1 May, the 122-room Hotel Oceana in Santa Barbara, California, rebranded as Hotel Milo Santa Barbara. The rebrand, besides a change in ownership, was really all about location, according to Shelley Stearns, the hotel’s GM.
“We are right across the street from the beach in Santa Barbara, and this neighborhood—now West Beach—was originally founded by Milo Potter back in the late 1800s,” she said.
Milo Potter was Santa Barbara’s first hotelier and was pivotal to the city’s development. In 1903, he opened Hotel Potter in the same spot where Hotel Milo now sits. By the 1920s, Santa Barbara had become a community.
A goal of the hotel’s rebrand is to engage guests and connect the hotel to the community so guests feel like locals and not just tourists, Stearns said.
“The name really gives us an opportunity to tell the history of Santa Barbara, where the hotel came from, where the name came from, and how Santa Barbara was really founded,” she said. “And telling that story—that really allows us the opportunity to give the guest more of a local experience. It’s not just that you’re a tourist in our community; we want you to experience it as if you lived here.”
Hotel Milo is part of HHM’s Independent Collection, a portfolio of 10 boutique hotels known for their connection to the local communities.
Branding the unbranded
The name of a hotel can help to create a property’s brand, according to sources.
“It’s the first thing (consumers) are going to see. The good news for an independent property is that they have a little bit more creative freedom. They can inject their own personality into it because it is independent,” Leach said.
“On the flipside, the ‘watch out’ is nobody’s going to know what this is. You don’t have the power of a big brand behind you to push it,” he said.
But everything is a brand today no matter how large or small, Leach said.
“Consumers today recognize brands. They appreciate brands large and small. Even small, growing brands—especially curated or artisanal brands—have weight and meaning because consumers are attracted to the brand identity and that brand idea,” he said. “And that becomes a personal badge to themselves. Consumers are using brands as a badge of who they are. It’s a reflection of their own personal style and their own personal taste. So independent properties are certainly part of that.”
Sometimes branding a property is all about rebranding, starting with a name change.
Wali said hotel names can carry baggage. Provenance has been through the name-change process at five different hotels, he said. Each name change was preceded by an extensive amount of renovation.
He said guests can have romantic notions and associations to a hotel’s name, but they also can have negative memories associated with the property. That’s when hoteliers might have to fight an uphill battle to defend the hotel.
“In the Internet age, those comments stick around for a long time. So you’re trying to shed the old image of whatever people were saying about you and trying to convince them that you truly have changed and that you are new and improved,” he said “Not to say that it’s without controversy when we do it, but in most cases we’ve found that Day One a few people get upset; Day Two they’re still talking about it; Day Three they’ve forgotten about it, because if you’ve done it well enough it’s never a problem.
“But if you take a hotel and change the carpet in the lobby and call it something else, people are going to call you on it,” he added.