Honoring the past, present, and future of the independent hotelier
Given that the overarching theme of this issue focuses on the very topic we’ve been covering in this column for more than a year now, we’re going to devote this month’s installment of this column to everything that’s wonderful and unique about independent hoteliers, as well as the role they play in the continued evolution of the industry as a whole. With so much focus – understandably so – on the current state of franchising contracts and disagreements between brand and franchisee, it can be easy for independent hoteliers to feel lost in the shuffle despite serving as a critical component of the hospitality industry.
Indeed, independent hoteliers are vital to the industry – considered pioneers of the American hospitality industry, establishing their hotels and motels across the country even in the early days of the nation’s expansion. Independent properties were located strategically along major thoroughfares or in frequently trafficked areas, providing easy access and convenience for local residents and out-of-town travelers. Those hotels you see romanticized in old Western films? By and large, those were started by a local entrepreneur looking to provide weary travelers with a stopover on their journey westward. Quite often, they occupied the upper floors of another business – a bar or restaurant, for example.
Moving into the more recent past, however, independent properties typically were simple single-story buildings with rooms facing a parking lot, allowing guests to park their cars directly outside their rooms for easy loading and unloading.
Regardless of what time in history we examine, independent hoteliers always have recognized the importance of customer satisfaction, going the extra mile to ensure guests have a pleasant and fulfilling stay. They also have a well-earned reputation as employing a customer-centric approach to service, prioritizing the comfort and convenience of their guests. From their earliest days to the present, independents have strived to create a welcoming and hassle-free experience for travelers. Hoteliers also have, in today’s world, have embraced technology to enhance customer service, offering amenities like online reservations, easy check-in check-out, RFID or Bluetooth locks, and expanded communication platforms.
Additionally, independent hotels have been, and continue to be, significant contributors to local economies, providing employment opportunities and supporting local businesses through partnerships and collaborations. By employing individuals from the surrounding area, they contribute to the local economy. The revenue generated impacts future tourism, taxes, and secondary effects like local food vendors, ice cream parlors, city museums, attractions in the community, and countless other facets of the economy, both small and large.
A LEGACY FOR THE FUTURE
Many independent hotels started as family-owned ventures and have been operated as such for several generations and counting. These hoteliers have been at the forefront of hospitality innovation, introducing new amenities, services, and technologies to enhance the guest experience while simultaneously improving the bottom line.
The desire to continually evolve and improve the business for future generations of hoteliers is a common trait among independent operators. For example, many independent properties have been at the forefront of exploring and implementing sustainable practices, including the growing usage of energy-efficient designs, renewable energy sources, water-conservation measures, and eco-friendly amenities to appeal to environmentally conscious travelers.
And, while some branded properties might view third-party booking platforms as a scourge, many forward-thinking independent hoteliers are embracing this technology, leveraging these services and related apps to increase visibility and reach a wider audience. At the same time, unique-experience hoteliers are differentiating themselves by offering creative and immersive experiences by incorporating local culture, organizing local tours and activities, hosting events, or partnering with local businesses to provide guests with an authentic and memorable stay.
All of this is being done without the guidance, oversight, or financial resources belonging to a brand might afford. Sure, there’s often strength in numbers, but independent hoteliers are doing just fine, making their own way in the world, which is exactly what they’ve done since they first opened their doors.