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The Shifting Brand Landscape

BITAC® Symposium Panel Addresses Key Issues Facing Major Flags Today.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Dennis Nessler
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A trio of brand executives weighed in on a number of topical industry issues ranging from the sharing economy to soft brands during BITAC® Symposium 2017, which took place earlier this week at the Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai Valley, CA.

The panel, entitled “The Shifting Brand Landscape,” included Eileen Slora, executive director, North/Central America, Luxury, Accor Hotels; Alan Ames, director of franchise services, La Quinta; and Jon Ketover, VP, business development, Red Lion Hotels Corp.

The executives acknowledged the value of soft brands in today’s lodging industry.
“I think it’s showing how our industry is changing; where people if they come to any part of the country, or to your hotel, it’s more than just a hotel stay. You hear a lot about the ‘Bleisure’ traveler, and they come in and they want come for business, but they want to stay for the weekend and experience the area. For our hotels being able to take that local flair from artwork to design to everything like that, it’s important to do… There’s still a value of having a corporate or a brand to give that stability, but I think guests and even investors and individual owners want to have a little bit of that independence,” noted Ames.

Ketover added, “I think it’s a win-win. You have the owner or operator of the independent property who is able to tap into the distribution channels and loyalty programs and things of that sort, and the brands get additional distribution, which is key. All the way around it’s a nice component.”

Meanwhile, the industry continues to feel the impact of the sharing economy in a variety of ways. Slora, for example, noted that Accor now operates in that space with the recently acquired onefinestay and start-up JO&JOE.

According to Slora, “when we think about Airbnbs, who stays there? It’s usually going to be the millennials, because they’re all about experiences. They’re about not spending a great deal of money and they also travel in packs. These [online home rental companies] really were developed to attract that particular segment of the population, so I think that Airbnbs are here to stay.”

Slora further added that Airbnb is making an internal push to adhere to standards. She also discussed the company’s motivation to get into the online rental business. “We jumped into the market to try to get that market segment, we’re the third largest hotel company in the world and we’re trying to capture as many dollars spent as we can get. So I think that [sharing economy] is here to stay, but I think you’re going to see an evolution with it,” she said.

Ketover noted of Airbnb, “Personally I do think it’s a different type of accommodation; it’s not a hotel. It’s a different set of expectations,” he said.

Ames also pointed out some of the inherit differences between traditional properties and home rentals. “I think what people are finding is with hotels that can create that great open concept, people can come down and utilize the lobby space. They kind of call it together-alone. They want to be around people, but they don’t necessarily want to talk to them. I think that’s where we still have the advantage over Airbnbs in the hospitality field, because you still want that interaction,” he noted.

When it comes to changing guest expectations, the executives attributed much of the evolution to technology.

“I think that guests are a lot more sophisticated traveling today, just because of technology and they’re able to see what hotels are out there. They no longer will accept mediocrity,” said Slora.

Ketover specifically detailed some of the changes. “When we talk about guest expectations, technology has played such an incredible part of this evolution. I think technology has changed. When you go on the road it’s changed how you work; it’s changed how you connect with your office; changed how you ask for preferences, things of that sort, how you make reservations; check in and check out. I think it’s also changed emotionally. Years ago a lot of it [the business] had to do with quicker interactions and shorter encounters with the hotel, now it’s more about customization and authentic personal experiences,” he insisted.

“I think with every level of brand out there we have to wrap our arms around it. At the end of the day I don’t care how old your property is or how good it is, if that hotel is clean and they have a friendly staff it’s going to be successful,” said Ames, who did further acknowledge that when traveling with his family “we need to be able to plug in.”

Slora added, “you have to make it easy for them. It has to be seamless, there’s nothing worse than going into a hotel at night and not knowing how to turn the lights on or off or plug in.”

Of course, a key part of technology has become social media. The executives shared their opportunistic approaches.

Ketover, for example, used the company’s lifestyle brand, Hotel RL, as a prime example. “We create a design throughout the hotel that really inspires the guest to kind of take images,” he said.

Slora, similarly noted with the company’s Sofitel brand, “people do a lot of their fashion instagrammable moments there.”

However, Ames pointed out, “the other side of this is we’re giving everyone a megaphone to be able to share their experience, if it’s positive or negative, with the world… If properties are not engaged in responding they’re going to get left behind,” he said.
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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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