The Craving for Local Color and Culture

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | June 18, 2017

There was a time in America, before the proliferation of national chains, when every town had an independent, family-run hotel. With the rise of soft-branded properties and increasing demand for guest stays in properties reflective of local culture. But with the the rise in popularity of soft-branded properties, there now seems to be a prevailing interest in the return of independent hotels.

This backlash to the sea of “sameness” characterized by national chains might be the result of the dulling of our senses from the often-excessive amount of time we spend with our faces buried in our digital screens and the resulting need to engage our senses in more dynamic ways when we leave our homes and workplaces. Then again, could the desire for heightened differences among hospitality venues be a generational issue, where younger generations more keenly value authentic experiences? Either way, we are seeing the end of the chain hotel as we know it.

Let’s go back a bit. The rise of the chain hotel came about as a result of the development of the automobile industry and the U.S. highway system in the mid part of the last century. At the time, early brands like Motel 6, filled a need for stop-overs, for people that hit the roads, on their way to a final destination. These early hotel brands provided a reliably clean and affordable night’s rest and were so successful that the formula became the model for the abundance of brands we see today, as well as those of the luxury market, both in the U.S. and then across the planet.

Adding to the escalating success of branded hotels around the globe is that their comforts weren’t lost on American guests, including those who felt that they’d previously endured inadequate accommodations during their travels abroad. I remember a story from my grandfather, where, on a trip to Moscow, he’d suffered the indignity of enduring an irritating toilet tissue at the hotel where he stayed. If Moscow had a Marriott in those days, that would never have been an issue.

While welcoming lodgings are always appreciated, over time, the similar qualities of the many international brands have detracted from the group’s overriding popularity. Hospitality notable, Ian Schrager, noticed the trend toward tedium in the brands early on, countering it with the development of the boutique hotel in the 1980s. By seeing hotels as destinations in and of themselves, Schrager filled a previously unseen void by creating boutique hotels that did more than provide ample comfort for overnight stays. They also were places to be seen.

Schrager’s hotels, in fact, captured the zeitgeist of New York and Miami so well that others attempted to follow suit through copycat establishments. Now, decades later, such properties have evolved into the rise of numerous independent sites that are less about exclusivity and more about inclusion, by welcoming guests into the location, including the neighborhood or city where the property resides.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: The Greening of Your Bottom Line

There are strong moral and ethical reasons why a hotel should incorporate eco-friendly practices into their business but it is also becoming abundantly clear that “going green” can dramatically improve a hotel's bottom line. When energy-saving measures are introduced - fluorescent bulbs, ceiling fans, linen cards, lights out cards, motion sensors for all public spaces, and energy management systems - energy bills are substantially reduced. When water-saving equipment is introduced - low-flow showerheads, low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, and serving water only on request in restaurants - water bills are also considerably reduced. Waste hauling is another major expense which can be lowered through recycling efforts and by avoiding wastefully-packaged products. Vendors can be asked to deliver products in minimal wrapping, and to deliver products one day, and pick up the packaging materials the next day - generating substantial savings. In addition, renewable sources of energy (solar, geothermal, wind, etc.) have substantially improved the economics of using alternative energies at the property level. There are other compelling reasons to initiate sustainability practices in their operation. Being green means guests and staff are healthier, which can lead to an increase in staff retention, as well as increased business from health conscious guests. Also, sooner or later, all properties will be sold, and green hotels will command a higher price due to its energy efficiencies. Finally, some hotels qualify for tax credits, subsidies and rebates from local, regional and federal governments for the eco-friendly investments they've made in their hotels. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document how some hotels are integrating sustainable practices into their operations and how their hotels are benefiting from them.