Proliferation of soft brands

Several hospitality chains recently announced new soft brands, including Loews Hotels’ Regency brand and Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio. This now brings the total number of brands by the top 10 hotel companies to 113. After reading several articles that discuss the proliferation of these lifestyle collections, it got me thinking about the state of the hospitality industry and whether or not the increase in brands is positive or negative.

The industry used to be clear-cut — you either stay at a large brand or an independent. Big brands used to hang their hat on their standards being constant across the world, but now they seem to mimic independents with the increasing number of lifestyle collections. The Internet is leveling the playing field across the hospitality industry, and travelers need to spend their time researching before booking in order to figure out what each of these new brands stands for and find the one that best suits them.

While it’s great that there really is a brand for everyone, it could raise some consumer confusion trying to decipher the differences between each new brand. Several recent articles state the larger brands are hiding behind their new lifestyle collections in order to attract the younger generation. These younger consumers are looking for unique experiences, which tend to come from independent hotels; therefore, the larger brands answer the demand by building more brands that can accommodate. 

I think if hospitality lenders did not push for an owner to brand the hotel with a flag, the number of brands would be decreasing rather than increasing in the Internet age. The loyalty programs are now one of the last tools the major brands have to keep their customer base, and so far Millennials seem more interested in experiential travel than points.

Do you think the recent proliferation of brands is a positive or negative for the major hotel companies?