Were fond of beating up on the airlines for
being lemmings, matching each other, marching in lockstep, boring
us with sameness.
Weve hurled the
same accusations at a few cruise lines, too. Some ships look an
awful lot like a lot of other ships, inside and out -- and so do
And in the hotel
business, its still possible to march blindfolded into a standard
double, take off the blindfold, and have no clue whether youre in
big chain like Hyatt or an even bigger chain like
of the big names in hotels figured out a while ago that they were
getting boring. Maybe it started with Starwood and its Heavenly
Beds or Kimptons understanding of style. Whatever the catalyst,
there seems to be a frenzy of product differentiation going on in
the lodging business. Its done wonders for the manufacturers of
upscale bedding, high-fashion lighting fixtures, ergonomic chairs
and flat-panel TVs, not to mention the well-being of hotel
At the same time,
consolidation is allowing the industrys big franchising firms to
find new niches. Just in the last few weeks, Cendant acquired the
Wyndham brand, giving it a foothold in the upscale category, while
Choice acquired Suburban, giving it a leg up in the economy
extended-stay segment. And thats just last months deals.
New brands have been
sprouting all year. Horst Schulze, the former Ritz-Carlton CEO, is
As a result of all
this activity, hotel companies are getting bigger, extending their
reach and becoming more profitable. Its an exciting time for
And here is the
really good news for hotel guests and believers in capitalism --
the U.S. hotel product, despite consolidation and homogenization,
has been steadily improving. Its never been easier to find a decent
hotel in the U.S. Thats something we could easily take for granted,
particularly the younger generation of todays travelers.
As you travel the
interstates or make your way between various cities and their
airports, notice the choice of accommodations.
Even in small
cities and out-of-the-way places, youll see nationally recognized
name brands, new structures and clean and secure facilities, with
amenities and technology that often go well beyond basic. Its
getting harder and harder to find the nasty surprises that previous
generations of motel patrons used to dread.
This may be one
reason for the hotel industrys recent focus on lifestyle issues and
personalized amenities: Its ready to raise the bar because
everybodys got the basics down pretty well.
If only the
airlines could follow.
the previous century, Delta was ready when you are. A more recent
version might have said Delta is ready when you are -- if there are
enough of you, but we barely had time to crack jokes before Delta
wised up and dropped its experiment in ad-hoc
Aside from the
obvious lessons this episode offers to aspiring public relations
professionals, Deltas actions offer a glimpse into a fundamental
dilemma of airline operations: the indivisibility of
If you have a
100-seat airplane and five passengers (or 105), you cant roll out
the mini-version because there isnt one. Youre stuck with 95 empty
seats or five unhappy people (or both).
We cant blame Delta
for trying to find a way out of this jam, but we can blame Delta
for botching the effort.