AAHOA Chairwoman (2019-2020)
For most of AAHOA’s 19,600+ members, the franchise business model helped them achieve the American Dream. The relationship between a brand and a hotelier is one in which both parties choose the other. When brands choose an owner to develop a property, they consider a number of factors ranging from some that are geographic and market-based to others that are more personal, such as the owner’s experience, reputation, and whether or not they would make a good partner. Owners consider many factors as well, such as the brand’s reputation, market segment, and potential ROI. These are multimillion-dollar investments, and both parties do their research when choosing a partner. Because a successful relationship is vital to a successful business, it is imperative for owners to have a good understanding of the franchise agreement’s requirements.
However, disagreement is an inevitable part of any relationship. Whether that relationship is business or personal, the remedies are often the same – hard work, communication, and, sometimes, compromise. When it comes to franchisor/franchisee relationships, one of the points of contention that I hear hoteliers mention most is brand standards, particularly those that are non-guest-facing. But the disagreements that may arise can be addressed constructively and potentially headed off by working strategically with brands and other hoteliers.
Brands base their standards on market research and testing to create a set of amenities and services they feel will make guests feel welcome and comfortable (and, perhaps most importantly, feel that they are getting their money’s worth). Disagreement can come about when brands do not effectively communicate why certain standards are being mandated or if owners feel that their feedback is not valued. Owners are often frustrated by amenity creep, and, sometimes, a brand’s failure to explain why certain standards are being implemented can compound those frustrations. Maintaining open lines of communication with a brand and providing valuable feedback based on guest interactions can head off potential disagreements when it comes to new standards.
I recommend working with other hoteliers through franchise advisory councils (FACs), which can facilitate dialogue with brands, and capitalizing on your own relationship with your brand. These relationships also can offer valuable perspective, both to owners when discussing the highs and lows of operating a particular franchise, and to brands when they need owner feedback or simply want to take the temperature of their franchisees. Owner feedback helps brands understand what does and does not work. It improves customer service and can play an important role in a brand’s direction as it evolves. The success of this type of working relationship is contingent upon the brand treating these councils as true advisors and not rubber stamps, and active owner participation is imperative to making this a reality. Associations such as AAHOA can also help owners work strategically with brands, identify common owner issues and interests across different brands, and facilitate open communication. In the end, you’ve both chosen each other for a reason, and success is achievable.
This month’s issue of Today’s Hotelier focuses on brand standards. There is a good feature on how brand standards are evolving to avoid cookie-cutter guest experiences and give hoteliers more leeway to showcase their personal touch. I also encourage you to check out the article on brand standards and emerging technologies. This is an important topic, especially given the speed at which technology changes. While brand standards can be a contentious issue, as entrepreneurs, we are always looking to improve our businesses. Working with brands to help provide the best guest experiences can yield a rewarding and, ultimately, profitable result