William Shakespeare famously wondered in Romeo and Juliet, "What's in a name?" And when it comes to pondering the most recent raft of oddly labeled hotel badges, one can do far worse than employing the words of the Bard himself.
For example, one could vamp on Hamlet's soliloquy: "To be, or not to be? Or the B. Or even the Be."
The good news, as panelist after panelist at last week's NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference reiterated, is the number of global travelers is on the rise.
Unfortunately, it's becoming clear that the number of words, terms or alphabet components that hoteliers can use to name or rename their lodging brands is shrinking. And that's forcing companies to get creative. Even a little funky.
One of the most prevalent trends is the single-letter name, whose patron saint was former Starwood Hotels chief Barry Sternlicht. He inaugurated that trend just a few subway stops from the aforementioned conference with his original W Hotel in New York.
Indeed, long ago, some nameless investor summed up the wisdom of buying up real estate by observing, "They're not making any more of it." Sternlicht figured out way back in 1998 that when it comes to the alphabet, they're not making any more letters either.
So it is that in recent years, the industry has been cooking up a bottomless batch of alphabet soup.
For example, the first installment of the B Hotel lifestyle brand opened in Florida's Downtown Disney district last year. It was later followed up, naturally, by its B2 affiliate in Miami's Design District.
Be forewarned that neither of those is to be confused with the new Be Hotel boutique property, which opened this year on Canal Street in New York's Chinatown area.
Across the continent, the 105-year-old San Francisco building that began life on the city's Union Square as the Fielding Hotel, and was most recently known as the Hotel Frank, has been redeveloped and rebranded; the first-ever Hotel G opened last month.
Last in the alphabet, but certainly not least, Z Hotels is getting ready this month to open its third London property, near Piccadilly Circus, where the hotelier is hoping that its tight quarters -- the website HotelChatter says the standard rooms are about 130 square feet on average -- are sleep-inducing.
Whether that company can claim copyright infringement on Hotel Zed in Victoria, British Columbia, rests on one's interpretation of letter pronunciation in various English dialects. Besides, it shouldn't be hard to differentiate Zed, a boutique that opened at the site of the old Blue Ridge budget hotel. Among other things, it will score some karma points by using a restored 1967 Volkswagen Microbus as a free guest shuttle.
There are actually a number of other slight variations to the single-letter approach. CitizenM, the Amsterdam-based chainlet of "affordable luxury" hotels (also with super-small rooms), opened its first U.S. property near New York's Times Square in March. It is working on a second New York property in the city's Bowery district.
A few blocks away, the Empire Hotel last month debuted Level R, a club that sits on the property's 12th-floor rooftop and affords guests views of the Hudson, along with music spun by DJs.
The letter inventory continues to shrink further if you factor in slightly older properties.
Across the East River from Manhattan, Long Island City's Z Hotel opened in 2011, while the D Las Vegas Casino Hotel opened on the renovated site of the old Fitzgeralds property in Sin City's downtown area. Midland, Mich., and Darwin City, Australia, aren't exactly sister cities, but they both can claim home to an H Hotel. There's a Hotel I in Croatia and a Hotel J in Stockholm. Paris visitors can find Hotel O, while chainlets of P hotels and Hotel V are on the ground in Norway and the Netherlands, respectively. The very cool-sounding Hotel X will debut in Toronto next year.
While it's hard enough to figure out what these letters actually stand for, that pales in comparison to deciphering the meaning of some other recently hatched brands.
As if Marriott didn't have enough irons in the fire, the largest U.S. hotelier will debut the Moxy lifestyle brand in Milan this year. (We're not sure how that translates in Italian.)
Then there's Carlson Rezidor, which earlier this year said it was preparing a new umbrella brand of five-star independent hotels called the Quorvus Collection. The name stems from a constellation in the southern sky. Which is spelled Corvus, of corvus.
Then there's Curio, the name of the new umbrella brand that Hilton Worldwide announced last week. Hilton said the Curio would be designed for travelers "who seek local discovery and authentic experiences." That umbrella group added a major property while getting further exposure to the letter-brand trend by signing up the nearly-completed SLS Las Vegas. Which is operated by SBE.
Clearly, the independents that are choosing such badge names are trying to play catch-up with the larger brands. The reason is simple: While the big boys' 2013 average room rates were about equal to the indies' $109 average, their occupancy rate of 64% was 5 percentage points higher than the indies, according to STR.
Meanwhile, the bigger, branded hoteliers are working to differentiate newer products in order to capitalize on continued growth, as STR last week forecasted growth in U.S. revenue per available room to accelerate this year, to 5.7% from 5.4% in 2013, primarily on room rate advances.
Fortunately, some folks are attempting to introduce brands that make a little more sense to the uninitiated. In Woodstock, N.Y., a 1970s-era hotel is slated to reopen this summer as Hotel Dylan, and while there are no overt references to the iconic singer-songwriter originally known as Robert Zimmerman, the proprietors appear to be taking a subliminal approach to upping the '60s vibe.
In Santa Barbara, Calif., there's nothing subliminal about the former Hotel Oceana being rebranded as Hotel Milo in May. That boutique property was named in honor of Milo Potter, who opened the beachside town's first hotel on the current hotel's site in 1903.
Meanwhile, Commune Hotels & Resorts is looking to take full advantage of its recent outright acquisition of the Thompson Hotels lifestyle brand by preparing to go to market with a more youth-oriented (i.e., cheaper) brand called Tommie.
And finally, there's the case of a trio of developers intrepid enough to take on the redo of a 55-year-old Howard Johnson hotel a block south of Boston's Fenway Park. They intend to infuse the 94-room property with a heavy dose of music and pop-culture references when the hotel reopens this summer.
Clearly, these developers are men of action. They're renaming the property the Verb.
Contact Danny King at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.