Toy Boats and Oil Tankers: The Advantages of Being a New Hotel Brand

August 9, 2016


If you were an emerging hotel brand entering the market today—if you were in the process of refining your brand identity—what decisions would you make? If you had a totally clean slate, how would you conceive your hotel’s layout, design, amenities, promotions, name, logo, and web site?


Emerging hotels don’t have to deal with the formidable task of reinventing themselves—at least not yet. Their business models and brand identities are malleable. Established brands have more resources, yes—but also more momentum, which means they are already committed to a particular, course and it is difficult to change this without a lot of heartache and commitment. It’s like getting a fleet of oil tankers to shift course is more difficult than building a toy boat and sending it downstream.

Not that emerging hotel brands are toys, mind you. They’re serious investments. That’s why their marketing teams are working so hard.



These questions as to how you would make decisions with a clean slate are worth asking because it invites the disruption of established patterns. It inspires all hotels—established or new, large or small, five stars or two stars—to find a clearer perspective on what people want out of a hotel brand.


Take Virgin Hotels, for example. This is by no means an unknown startup, but Virgin is new to the hotel sector. They’ve never done it before, until now. They’ve already opened a property in Chicago, and they’re set to open in New York, Dallas, Palm Springs and Nashville. So what’s their style? What are they offering?


The company’s animated promotional video conveys a very simple message: “Our model solves a whole bunch of problems that matter.” Local flavour, communal spaces, sensible layouts and a down-to-earth approach that does away with pesky add-ons and hidden charges. Virgin is already known for being cool and accommodating, so their hotel offering fits naturally with this larger brand.


What about established hotel brands? They, too, have something to say. In 2015 Radisson launched Radisson Red, which seems almost farcical to non-millennial travelers. Local artwork, designer fittings, smaller rooms, ping pong tables and chairs that don’t match. It’s all about flavour and improv. It’s about (again) local culture, each location being distinct from the next. It’s as if Virgin, Radisson and other like them are asking: If we could beat AirBnb at their own game, what would it look like?


Now consider the many emerging or micro brands you’ve never heard of. Proper, Moxy, tommie, 1Hotels. They’re popping up everywhere—and whatever they’re doing, they seem confident about it. These new brands all seem to be asking not only the AirBnb question, but the “how can we make it better” question that Millennials in particular have been credited with asking about a great many things. How can we make coffee better? How can we make excellent food more casual? How can we break old patterns in fashion, shaving, banking, flying, or any product/service/experience we care to mention?


New hotels have the opportunity to get in where the action is, put their finger on the pulse of the industry today, and find a way to create their own disruption. A departure from traditional values can be a disruption. A return to traditional values can be a disruption. It will be one disruption after another until every traveler on planet earth is 100% satisfied with the hospitality options available to them, and this will never happen. That’s the nature of any competitive industry. It never stops changing.


So yes, it’s an exciting time to be a new hotel brand—but there is no one recipe for success. There’s only a fluid understanding of what the industry looks like today, what it will look like tomorrow, and how any one offering can occupy a relevant place within that shifting oceanic landscape between a tanker and a toy boat.



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