Before you read beyond
this sentence and go on to the next, think about your favorite
restaurant. Got it firmly in mind? OK, proceed. Is it a branded
name? Odds are, it isnt.
overwhelming odds. The question was asked to 450 people attending a
panel session at the International Luxury Travel Market held Dec. 6
to 9 in Cannes, France, and only one person raised his hand. (He
escaped before I could ask whether it was Taco Bell or Ruths Chris
The question had
been asked by Richard Lewis, managing director of Indecorp, a
collection of independent hotels affiliated with the Preferred,
Summit and Sterling groups -- its John Ueberroths current project.
Lewis was trying to draw an analogy between independent restaurants
and independent hotels, saying that, given the choice, luxury
travelers would probably be happier put into a one-of-a-kind hotel
property than a branded one.
His analogy isnt
exact, of course, because at the luxury end, branded hotels are not
cookie-cutter operations. The Four Seasons in Nevis, Austin and
Shanghai have less in common with each other than any three
branches of Taco Bell. Perhaps the only quality these three Fours
Seasons have in common is service.
And even if
Indecorp properties were to make the same service claim, unless the
name Indecorp becomes widely known -- that is, it becomes a brand
-- the claim would lack a critical asset. Several speakers talked
about the bragging rights that go with a luxury travel experience.
If, for instance, you say you stayed at a Ritz-Carlton, you need
explain no further. But when you stay at a great indie, you must
first convince the listener youd recognize a good hotel if you saw
Still, its a great
question as regards brand. Many of the best properties in the world
are independent. Perhaps a better analogy than restaurants would be
watches. Everyone knows Rolex -- its so widely known that a Rolex
is likely to be among the first purchases made after someone wins
the lottery. But old money knows that there are dozens of other
watches equally good, and old money may even strive to distance
itself from lottery winners by buying a less well-known luxury
I dont think Four
Seasons or Ritz-Carlton will object to being compared with Rolexes,
but Lewis point is well taken: When courting the upper classes, its
not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with luxury properties
which, while not necessarily household names, can deliver the
emotional bond you feel with your favorite restaurant.
point came up on a different panel. Two men who should know --
Matthew Upchurch, CEO of the upscale agent group Virtuoso, and Bill
Fischer, travel agent to the rich and famous, both observed that
what was needed in the luxury hotel sector was not accommodations
that can be customized, but ones that can be configured.
Each was making the
point that properties should offer flexibility in guest room
configurations, just as a good meeting space can accommodate large
groups or small. It has everything to do with families and large
groups of friends traveling together. Each man spoke of the lack of
inventory at high-end properties to handle travelers who want
adjoining, if not communicating, suites.
If this isnt
addressed by the best-known luxury brands, indies take note:
Opportunity knocks, and sometimes it knocks on a communicating