Sharpen your edge


Competing with the brands and determining whether going independent is the right move

It’s no secret that brands have countless resources at their disposal. As independent hoteliers, it can feel like David battling Goliath, but there are ways independent properties can position themselves in the market for the greatest chances of success.

But, it’s important to understand that going independent is not the right move for everyone. The first step on this journey should be conducting feasibility studies to determine whether going independent is the right move for you. Critical tools such as market area analysis, supply/demand analysis, and projection of income/expenses will help you better evaluate the risks and potential rewards of operating an independent property in a certain area.

Information in hand, a key factor to consider when launching any business venture is differentiation. Competitive advantages are all the things we either do better than the competition or things we do that the competition simply doesn’t do at all.

For example, most hotels provide some sort of breakfast, but an independent hotel breakfast can be better than a brand hotel breakfast with menu customizations or inclusion of local vendors that create more of an at-home experience than a corporate brand will.

Independent hotels can bring in live entertainment or any number of creative marketing ideas that wouldn’t get approved by a corporate brand. You may not find live music at some economy branded hotels, but you might at an independent hotel with upgraded amenities and a marketing plan of filling an event calendar with local artists who will bring their fans to your property.

For example, a feasibility study I was a part of showed a low number of three-star hotels in a certain area, so it made sense to upgrade amenities to raise the hotel rating from a branded two-star property to an independent three-star property. That upgrade meant attracting a different kind of guest and optimizing RevPar to a higher level of amenities, from live entertainment to an alcohol license. The property is limited only by creativity, budget, and the law. Soon, the front desk will be replaced with comfort seating and an iPad while the staff completes a “relaxation experience” during check in by offering an adult beverage. And, the property has additional plans to appeal to a business traveler that would never get approved by a corporate brand that are only possible as an independent.

Just from these select examples alone, it should be clear that it is indeed possible to compete with the brands by merely thinking creatively and working in harmony with one’s strengths.

As for positioning, it feels as though AAHOA was made for the independent hotelier by having benefits such as bulk purchasing power. Want further proof? Make a list of all the benefits of a corporate brand that might be available to you via industry association memberships and networking if you’re considering going independent. It’s often said that your network is your net worth, and belonging to an association like AAHOA provides countless benefits, both tangible and intangible.

Another tip that may sound like a no-brainer, yet many fail to implement, is hiring a marketing or branding expert. You don’t have to be corporate to be a brand. Simply put, a brand is a promise you make to the marketplace. A marketing expert can be helpful in identifying promises you can make that differentiate you or are better than the promises of corporate brands.

The common thread among these suggestions is to get help and be clear that independent does not mean alone and that you will need to find ways to replace what a corporate brand gives. But, you can accomplish this in a way that allows you to do more than the corporate brand allowed you to do.

Ultimately, a business coach can help motivate your efforts and help you maximize growth potential. But don’t stop there. Hire a consultant to guide feasibility studies. Hire a consultant to help identify “guest avatars” and the brand-promise messaging that would appeal to them. And, foundationally, don’t merely join industry associations – immerse yourself in every member benefit possible and serve the association in any capacity that furthers your shared interests.

vipul dayal

Vipul Dayal is president of VNR Management and the author of “Give Your Way to the Top – The Journey of Ambitious Generosity.” He can be reached at .


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