Independent hotel operators can work together to compete with the big brands, says Peter Hancock, chief executive, Pride of Britain Hotels
It's impossible to overstate the significance of brands when assessing consumer behaviour in the Western world today. One has only to look at the clothes we buy, the cars we drive and the newspapers we read. So many clues about a person's lifestyle are tied up in the choices they make, consciously or not, and the brands they're happy to be seen to embrace.
"I got these from M&S" should stifle any criticism of one's cheese crackers. And when looking for a nugget of information on the internet, Google has become as synonymous with that activity as Hoover was with getting dirt off carpets for most of the last century.
But surely we're not so easily influenced when it comes to picking hotels? Last year a Mintel report said 39% of Brits prefer independent hotels to the large chains. That's good news, but it still means 61% are happy with big brands and all they stand for: uniformity, blandness, predictability.
But the question remains: how can independent hoteliers compete with the huge marketing power of global companies without losing their identity and charm?
The answer has been with us for years. Successful hoteliers have always understood the value of working together. Many leading hotel associations have been with us for a generation or more. Pride of Britain Hotels celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and the British Hospitality Association its centenary. The Master Innholders have existed in some form since Tudor times.
By pulling together, independent operators can compete effectively with big brands using pooled resources. Better still, they often own the organisations they join and can therefore control the entry criteria and the way their money is spent.
So do these groups or consortia become brands in themselves? I believe they do. A tourist might mention their recent stay at a Best Western or a Relais & Châteaux in exactly the same way as they would a Hilton or a Ritz-Carlton. To the guest, it doesn't matter who owns the name - only the quality of the experience.
My message is simple: if you can't beat brands, join one.
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