Having worked for owners, operators, and designers of luxury hotels and resorts, I find that each has their own distinct take on what constitutes a unique hotel. Here we will focus on the foundations of a project that will provide you as an owner with the best opportunity to create a unique hotel, without discussion of designer selection.
As an owner, you will likely have a stable of brands that you personally enjoy when traveling on business and pleasure. This will naturally draw you towards these brands as candidates for your property. However, if creating a unique hotel is one of your primary goals, you might need to look into brands that you might not personally gravitate to. Ask yourself if the experience you want to provide is for your peer group, or for another that you see within the market that is not being captured. Thoroughly investigate brands that have the niche you are looking for. It might be that this brand has never managed a property in your city, country, or region, but this might be the brand that would work best for you to achieve the unique experience that you have identified is missing.
Once you have narrowed down the potential list of operators, you then need to consider the size of the Management Group. Sure, the Big Brands have their “boutique / lifestyle / Gen Z Mindset / etc.” brands, but they all come with a formula to keep them ring-fenced within the overall brand bandwidth. This is to ensure that these brands do not encroach into their other brand’s identities. These larger brands will also not be structured for you to have direct communication with Senior Management, leaving you restricted to discussions with the deal-maker or the Technical Services team. These management groups have a lot of advantages to offer; however, unique branding is not one of their strengths because their brands need regional or global appeal, whereas your brand is addressing your specific market.
A lot of owners initially want to have a unique hotel as a means to separate themselves from the competitive set. However, once the financial terms are reviewed from the various operators, it is typically the bigger, more established, brands that are able to offer a more stable financial performance due to their Sales & Marketing, Distribution, and Rewards programs. If you want to have a unique hotel, you need to accept that this typically comes with more financial risk. However, with risk there is also reward because you are looking to fill a space in the market that might not even be realized by other investors within your market. Creating a unique product will require a firm belief in your vision, and will require you to have direct and intense involvement in the delivery of the project.
Communication and Support
Unique hotels are typically delivered by smaller management groups, which have the capability to be flexible with each property to be more specifically calibrated to market conditions. Because they are smaller, you will have greater access to the CEO and senior management, who are likely the drivers behind the brand direction. These smaller groups might only have one or two brands within the stable, and not be as polished as the big brands in providing you with the Design, Technical Services, and Operational support that you might be accustomed to. You will need to rely on your own experience, or bring in your own specialists to advise you on the successful development of your property.
Know Your Location
You should know the site better than anyone else. Prior to purchasing the land you should have walked the streets and become familiar with all of the local businesses and competitive set. Stay in the hotels within your site’s competitive set and neighborhood, even if these would not be the type of properties you would typically stay in. Talk to the bartenders, front desk staff, and even other guests. Ask them what opportunities they see, where their property is lacking, and what could be done to improve their property. These insights will give you invaluable access to information that is beneath the surface of a feasibility study.
Independent / White Label
For the ultimate unique opportunity, you might wish to develop your own unique brand for this site. Perhaps this will be the first of what could be an established brand that could be launched in other locations. When doing this, you need to ask yourself if your unique concept could be translated into Chicago or Shenzhen. Perhaps it is not the tactile quality of your concept but the spirit; again, would this be appealing in different cultures that have different values? If you decide that this is going to be a one-off, truly unique independent hotel, how do you get the distribution and market awareness that would come with an established brand? You will have to investigate unorthodox methods of raising awareness, or perhaps joining a stable of other similar independent hotels that share distribution and marketing.