How to identify the right lifestyle brand partner

Looking for sustainable business success and profitability; a new ‘consumer pull power’; something unique that completely stands out from the cluttered hotel brands-market?

Choosing the right hotel brand is no longer just about which logo to put onto the real estate and which design standards and product features to follow. It goes beyond a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product proposition and is about service and experiences. The power of the brand is no longer just in the hands of the owner but with the consumer who has more power to influence.

Contributed by Emanuel Schreiner, founder, RVS Hospitality, Graz, Austria

Travellers’ preferences continue to evolve and they look for more personalization, authenticity, recognition and unforgettable, sustainable experiences from hotel stays. Due to COVID-19, the hospitality sector has been challenged as consumer needs and desires continue to change and, as a result, hotel operators need to adapt and respond by developing new, engaging, innovative concepts and experiences to create love beyond reason so that guests come back for more.

As such, creating entirely new hotel, branded experiences are a covetable solution to take your hotel to the next level, make it stand out from the competition and drive bookings.

More recently, hotel owners are considering alternative, niche brands to partner with which can offer higher levels of differentiation to stand out in a competitive hotel market. There are certain reciprocal benefits for both a hotelier and an established lifestyle brand that doesn’t have roots in hospitality—we call them non-hotelier brands. First and foremost, it increases market share and therefore grows a company’s revenue streams. Beyond that, collaborating with like-minded brands provides customers with value-added services, enhances a property’s overall identity and positioning in the market, and creates an out-of-the-box experience in a highly competitive market.

For an independent, smaller or new hotel properties, it certainly is more difficult to become fully branded. I would suggest that a co-branding collaboration with a carefully selected lifestyle brand would add another level of benefit, such as finding a sports brand for a lounge at a ski resort or a dive centre as part of an island resort.

Rendering of the co-branded Steigenberger Porsche Design hotel

For a non-hotelier brand the benefits are attractive, too. Adding a licensed business to the portfolio will generate additional revenue streams. By developing a three-dimensional customer experience, it allows the brand itself to be closer to its target group, adding new touchpoints, as well as help it to reach a broader market share.

Collaborations between hospitality brands and luxury lifestyle brands generate a joint effort to stand out from the crowd, engage with the consumer in a new way and obtain a broader market share.

Take the recent opening of the latest Cheval Blanc Hotel in Paris, which includes a Dior Spa (both brands belong to the LVMH conglomerate), or the Swiss medical wellness operator Chenot, which partnered with Kerzner International’s One&Only hotel brand. Nobu started as a single restaurant in 1987, then became a restaurant brand mid-1990’s and later evolved to a hotel brand with currently 13 properties in operation and another 12 in the global pipeline.

We’ve seen fashion houses entering the luxury hospitality market successfully with their own branded hotels, including The Palazzo Fendi in Rome and the Armani hotels in Dubai and Milano. On a smaller scale, you can find Laura Ashley designed tea rooms in selected U.K. hotels. The next sector to emerge into hospitality is automotive. Porsche Design partnered with Steigenberger Hotels, Aston Martin and Lamborghini are also about to enter the hospitality and residential market.

Already, a number of non-hotelier brands co-operate with real estate developers for residential projects in major cities around the globe. According to a 2021 Savills report, the top destinations for branded residences are the UAE (Dubai), followed by the United States (Miami, New York) and Thailand (Phuket, Bangkok). London-based YOO, for example, transcended from branded real estate to their own hotel label.

The selection process

The successful partnership between hotelier and lifestyle brand is based on shared vision, common values, clear goals and aligned revenue and profit expectations.

There are a number of considerations for identifying a brand to work with, from positioning to successful execution. These include:

What type of lifestyle does the hotel’s location attract? Your property’s location and amenities will determine the brands you approach. It needs to make sense. For example, if you are a ski resort in the snowy peaks of the Rockies, then working with a high-end ski wear brand would make great sense.

Share a similar target group. It is important to find a brand that shares a similar target audience, not necessarily identical. As luxury is becoming more accessible to a larger audience, there is the opportunity to widen the net and diversify among the wider luxury audience.

Does the brand’s values and philosophy complement the hotel’s brand promise? Careful consideration needs to be given to the hotel operator’s ability to translate the partner brand’s DNA into customized hospitality service and experiences. A successful joint brand venture is the fine balance of offering guests a new experience that is original and familiar at the same time.

Ask if this will be a happy marriage. A collaboration of this nature is for the long term. So, a hotelier needs to communicate from the very beginning to establish if the fundamentals are shared through a similar brand culture. Merging two worlds together needs to be done thoroughly and meaningfully.

It’s the people who create the magic. Entrust and appoint specialists who create such custom-made service concepts and branded experiences as white label for luxury brands.

Take the time needed to get it right. To collaborate at this scale, it will no doubt be part of a long-term business vision and strategy. Therefore, it is critical to develop a new product that will last the period of time. Take time to be deepen relationships, do the market research, and develop a quality product.

Once research and evaluations confirm the feasibility of the partnership and the bespoke service concept has been developed, the alliance is finally ready to move forward and negotiating the contracts is the next crucial consideration.

First of all, hotel owners need to establish what type of management contract to implement for their own operations. There are a lot of options and no one contract will fit all. However, there are certain considerations to be aware of.

Typically, there are three very distinct players when it comes to branded hotels: the owner, the management company and the brand.

As a hotelier you need to ensure your operation is in line with the standard and levels of quality that guests are expecting from that chosen partner brand as essentially the hotel will become an extension of that brand.

As such, hoteliers will need to determine whether this can be delivered by themselves or if they need to bring in a third-party (white label) operator that can create and fulfil that level of service expected by the brand’s audience.

Co-branded and branded hotels and residences are a trend that will continue to grow and we will witness new lifestyle brands put their stamp on the hospitality industry. For hoteliers seeking this joint venture, choosing the right brand and creating a bespoke brand experience will be the key to a successful partnership.