How independent hotels create unique guest experiences
How independent hotels create unique guest experiences
27 JULY 2016 11:46 AM

As guests search for more unique experiences, owners of branded properties look to independent and boutique properties for guidance.

The hospitality industry has had a history of globalization and brand standards; the great franchises were built upon these principles.

During a large part of the 20th century, corporate travelers and leisure guests alike arrived at their destination with a certain homogeneous expectation including what their room would look like, what amenities would be available, even down to how the lobby would feel. Consistency and uniformity by the brand were king.

Fast forward to today’s trending desire for a lifestyle, experiential, boutique, one-of-a-kind hotel. In the current market, we are seeing more and more branded assets drop their flags to move independent. This pivot in the positioning of hotels can be attributed to several different factors.

The authenticity factor
More and more travelers are seeking ways to stay and experience a destination in a more local and unique way. Original artwork, design implementation, cuisine and beverage offerings that reflect local neighborhoods, communities or cultures continue to be celebrated in travel.

Independent hoteliers have been able to capitalize on these crowd-pleasing trends with the freedom and flexibility to customize the guest experience in a way that most brand standards do not fully allow. Many brands today are now trying to incorporate this strategy into their newer concepts, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out between the intent of customization and the required adherence to the brand.

Innovative and cutting-edge design
For many years, innovation seemed to be reserved for only the luxury offerings, but now it can be found at every level of hotel in the independent sphere.

Conversions of midscale select-service properties—and even motels—in the right locations can be wildly successful in today’s market as hip, high-design hotels. The ability for an independent hotel to capture the essence of the neighborhood in its design and bring the community into the hotel has wide appeal for modern travelers and the community itself.

Interactive amenities
Unique amenities are found at the intersection of community, creativity and nostalgia.

Whether it is giant Jenga or Connect Four, Pac-Man or ping pong, or even a little Twister readily available in public spaces, guests inevitably meet and interact for a much more memorable experience. Lit billiards tables around the pool for evening play and cocktails or repositioned lobby spaces designed as a place to gather ensure the hotel experience involves much more than a comfortable guestroom.

Even conversions of the classic corporate gym to a Zen yoga studio or kickboxing dojo are examples of traditional amenities evolving into something more unique. Successful independent hoteliers of every asset size are striving to utilize every square inch of common space to allow guests to have meaningful shared experiences.

Complimentary continental breakfast
Free breakfast has been a staple of the brands’ select-service properties for years—even after it started out as a light continental breakfast—and has expanded to pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs, along with all the other continental trimmings. Many converted independents kept this tradition up until recently.

Now TripAdvisor reviews show that guests no longer perceive this type of breakfast offering as a value. Instead, the preference has shifted to a retail barista offering model with gourmet coffee, muffins and breakfast sandwiches or burritos for individual sale. The previous complimentary breakfast model would cost a medium-sized, 80-room hotel $100,000 to $200,000 per year. In turn, the new retail barista model aims to break even, while creating a much higher perceived value for the guests.

This can translate into significant value increases at the property both from a cost-saving standpoint and better guest satisfaction scores. The challenge is to make the food-and-beverage offerings fresh. Creating simple yet tasty meals using stripped down prep-kitchens is a difficult task, but the rewards for owners will be worth it.

The hospitality industry is founded on the principles of globalization and brand standards. Independent hoteliers are now trying to take those foundational principles and turn them on their collective heads. Independents are striving to allow guests to create their own unique, local experience rather than have a brand dictate a standard, expected experience.

Which experience are you looking for?

Matt Marquis is CEO and president of Pacifica Hotels. In 2000, Marquis, along with his father, Dale Marquis, formed Invest West Financial Corp as the family’s primary business and acquired Pacifica Hotel Company from their partners. Today they work together in creating and developing a dynamic family business focused on real estate and hospitality investments for the future. Marquis has a BA in communications with a business minor from Brigham Young University and an MBA from Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business. He also completed Harvard’s Families in Business seminar. He has served on the boards of several community groups, including the United Boys and Girls Clubs, Autism Society of American, and Cold Springs School Foundation, and is also a member and past member of the board of the Young President’s Organization (YPO).

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