The quandary of the hotel umbrella

Global warming discussions aside, like spring and summer in many places, New York enjoys our fair share of rainy days, thunderstorms and cloudbursts. We also enjoy an increasing share of travelers. NYC & Company reported that in 2013, New York City welcomed 54.3 million visitors

One day as I was popping up my umbrella coming out of the metro station on 42nd Street, I noticed about a dozen hotel names on the umbrellas of passersby, including my own, which hailed from the St. Regis. Most of these umbrellas were black, and the script or logo was somewhat difficult to decipher, in scrolling fonts. But I became determined to count as many as I could in my three-block jaunt to my destination. I observed the brands on these umbrellas were all wonderful, upmarket brands that had properties in NYC and beyond when coming down the street a pink umbrella with Harrods’ logo caught my attention.

Now, I realize that most likely the woman carrying this umbrella purchased it at the luxury goods icon in London. Perhaps those people sporting the hotel-branded umbrellas were frequent guests of those properties or, like me, were lucky enough to have someone gift me the luxury hotel chain’s parasol. Or perhaps — I am doubtful though — these were purchased rain gear. Of course, these are costly items that are certainly not without significant replacement costs. Obviously keeping the umbrella par levels under control is a sound operating practice.

Umbrellas are an essential part of guest service and can be good marketing reinforcing brand awareness and brand-value propositions. So my questions are: Why did I observe a sea of bland, black, virtually indistinguishable umbrellas bearing quality hotel brand names? Because the style is perceived to be understated? Cheaper? Or less attractive for a guest to covet and take? If a hotelier has the umbrella expense well managed, could the design be more compelling than black with gold script? What if the umbrella was thought of more like the guest robe? Could we teach our guests that the umbrella, like the robe, needs to be in the room upon checkout or the bill will be charged?

I realize the answer is probably not, especially if your guest leaves in a downpour. But maybe because New Yorkers, Londoners and other city dwellers are fond of our umbrellas, and they are nearly a necessity, I was thinking hoteliers could start the new fashion trend in umbrella design. It does rain all over the world, usually.