During day three of The Lodging Conference, hotel executives grappled with what brand consistency and guest experience mean in the industry today to owners and guests. In a panel discussion, Thomas Magnuson, CEO and co-founder of Magnuson Hotels, described how consumers are rejecting the standardization of branded properties. Greg Mount, president and CEO of RLH Corporation, differentiated between brand consistency for guest expectations, like cleanliness, WiFi, and TV, and brand standards, like carpet color, saying that consumers now care less about the latter. AAHOA Chairman Bhavesh Patel supported that claim from an owner’s perspective, explaining that certain brand mandates, whether the type of sheet or coffee, may not actually have a real impact on guest experience. “At the end of the day, it’s all about ROI,” Patel said.
However, the nature of a branded asset, explained Michael Medzigian, managing partner at Watermark Capital Partners, LLC, is that properties that fall below brand standards can harm the entire brand. Creating a positive experience ultimately comes down to hotel staff, explained Ken Greene, president for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the Americas. “We have to create a consistent experience,” Greene said. “If it doesn’t increase revenues, if it increases expenses, then there’s no reason for us to ask an owner to go do it. I think we have to be smarter about what standardization is, whether it’s product standardization or customer experience.”
To take a smart approach to standardization and guest experience, Magnuson emphasized the importance of customer data from both consumers and owners. “You have to follow what the customers are saying,” Magnuson said, reiterating the idea that guests don’t care about areas like carpet color or roof pitch. Kevin Frid, COO of AccorHotels in North and Central America, pointed out that when it comes to analyzing guest behavior, it’s dangerous to generalize and lump guests into one experience category. For example, business travelers and leisure travelers are often the same guests who want a completely different experience on each type of trip.
Liam Brown, president of North American franchising, owner services, and MxM select brands for Marriott International, said, “At the end of the day, the customer really doesn’t care what your brand strategy is except in the context of how they experience it that day.” Brown added that providing an interesting product, a meaningful experience, and service that connects is a formula that hasn’t changed over time. “There’s a basic expectation for what you should get in a hotel, and then you’ve got to layer on those experiences.”