13 June 2024

Destination Branding: When is a hotel a brand, not a building? 

Adam Larter

Why is it that some hotels you remember more than others? 

Some, I can recall every little detail, some I’ve spent over a week in, and I couldn’t tell you their name.  

It’s not just that some hotels are better than others, it is more often that some hotels are buildings, and some are brands.

Buildings; fulfil a function. Village halls, train stations, storage units, and some hotels are this. 
The hotels that are brands, they have personality, character, a soul; they can become worlds of their own where service, the wallpaper, the morning croissant all feel like they have been curated by one person, one point of view. Once you have a clear understanding of the hotel’s brand you understand their vision.   

You could guess how they deliver their afternoon tea.  

You could guess whether the bar has a good atmosphere.  

You might be more willing to ask the concierge for recommendations on great local board games cafes (or whatever it is that normal people do on holiday).  

Signs your hotel is not a ‘brand’.

Your hotel can feel like they are for ‘everyone’. 

There is a noticeably different service style between front-of-house, restaurants, and guest experiences.  

You can sometimes feel your communications lack bravery, consistency, and clarity.  

You struggle to find a tone of voice on social media.  

New openings in the hotel’s region tend to easily steal share of customers.  

You feel more defined by short-term trends than long-term vision.  

You are trying to open the same hotel in a new destination, and they do not feel connected.  

How to make a hotel, a brand. 

At Boldspace, we have spent a lot of time working with hotels to bring meaning and differentiation to their marketing and customer experience. Whether these are hotels which are part of large groups, balancing the personality of their individual destination) with that of a group, or stand-alone properties, we approach this exercise in much the same way.  

Our process is one of exploration, both deep research into market opportunities mixed with on the ground research understanding the vision of key stakeholders and finding a bold space where these meet.  

While each hotel is unique, there are some consistent learnings on how to build strong brands.  

Know who you are for, your tribe, their character, their personality.  

If you have decided either intentionally or organically that your hotel is for a certain type of person then you will be able to build the brand experience and marketing with this in mind.  

Your brand character needs to go deeper than the financial demographic of your target audience.  

Deciding your hotel is for a wealthy audience, is not a brand.  

Deciding your hotel is for a cost-savvy audience, is not a brand.  

Think about who you want to attract, and who they are as individuals, real human beings.  

What do they do with their free time? How do they dress? What music do they listen to?  

What does this hotel mean to them? If they are city travellers, are they there to party?  

If you are a business hotel, do you know what sort of business; think about how different the suited world of finance is with the t-shirts and trainers of Silicon Valley.  

The more you have a solid idea of your audience’s character, the more you will build a brand.  

Know what makes you unique; really unique. 

A challenge we often come across when working with hotels; they find it hard to separate the things which make them unique from the things which guests tell them they like.  

  • We have the best service; everyone always tells us so.  
  • We have the best food; everyone always tells us so.  
  • Our rooms are the best in the area, we are sure of this.  

These elements are all important, but building your message around this loses character.  

A guest expects great service, good food and good rooms. The more they pay, the more they expect this.  

What is it about your hotel that makes you truly unique; maybe it is only one or two things.  

Perhaps it is your unique locations, away from the tourist spots and in a certain district.  

Perhaps it is your quirky library full of poetry.  

Perhaps it is the lemon tree growing in the courtyard.  

One of two things that stick in a customer’s mind are stronger elements to build a brand around than all of the great things you do that come as ‘expected’ in a consumer’s mind.  

Create distinct service; by hiring against your values. 

One of the clearest embodiments of a hotel’s brand is its service culture.  

The most memorable hotel brands don’t just want ‘great’ service, they want service which reflects their culture. 

This can be done subtly; it isn’t gimmicky Disneyland style greetings and over-blown theatricality at every point.  

Hiring those who see the world your way will find it easier too.  

Those who genuinely like Italian food will be able to better recommend from the menu in your Italian restaurant. 

Those who love London will be better able to recommend a good day out in London.  

Find that character and build it into every advert, job description and hiring process.  

See these examples from Mama Shelter and The Savoy’s site; you can clearly see the different character they are looking for in their team small details like Mama Shelter alluding to tattoos / piercings will help signal to those who share their values to seek out Mama Shelter.  

Screenshot from Mama Shelter careers page.  

Screenshot from The Savoy careers page.  

Create distinct service; by training your team in these values. 

Given that hotels are such busy and demanding work environments it is easy to see how your brand can be lost in the day-to-day and more immediate requirements. We recommend regular time for a team to come together and re-iterate your values, re-iterate your tone of voice and practice.  

These moments of reflection are important, even for those who have been in one hotel for a long time, and make sure that everyone of all levels of seniority are working to a singular vision.  

Follow trends cautiously.  

The world of hospitality loves a trend, whether that is hot new world cuisine, a certain wellness approach or a wallpaper style. While there is an obvious short-term benefit to connecting to these trends there is a danger that your brand falls into a sea of forgettable.  

Some of the best restaurants rarely change their menu. Some of the best hotels never change their logo.  

When you act like a brand you know which trend is a useful build on your personality and which trend is out of character.  

Are you a city hotel for well-dressed late-night parties? Maybe you don’t need to worry about the daily gong-bath.   

Are you a back-to-basics barefoot luxury wellness hotel? Maybe you don’t need an iPad in every room.  

Showcase the brand in signature moments (brand markers). 

We often recommend hotels create brand markers in their experience.  

These are, often small, moments in the customer experience where the brand has an opportunity to bring its personality to the forefront.  

Having an afternoon tea for a London hotel is not distinctive; but afternoon tea which is delivered in a hidden library is. Humorous copy on a ‘door does not disturb’ sign is relatively commonplace but do not disturb signs with a unique scent could be a brand marker.  

The real exercise is not looking for innovation for innovation’s sake but using your own character and finding brand markers that bring that to life.