How Marriott's Most Global Brand Thinks Local
Sheraton Reveals It's No Longer 'One Design Fits All'
By Erin Hoover Vice President of Design, Westin Hotels & Resorts and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts | October 30, 2016
"The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories" - Mary Catherine Bateson
Until mid-20th century, a hotel's aesthetic was unique and customized to each location - either by design, as in the case of luxury properties built at the beginning of the 20th century, like the Waldorf Astoria or St. Regis, or by default, in the case of humbler regional hotels, motels and inns. The trend toward design standardization started in the 1950s in North America. Middle class prosperity mixed with modern interstate highways and cars designed for longer trips fueled an increase in leisure and business travel.
But to offset the boundaries being pushed in personal exploration, travelers desired predictability in lodging. Whether traveling for business, or on a family vacation, guests wanted to know that cleanliness, level of service and standard amenities, such as bathroom products or on-property dining, would be consistent, and most importantly, dependable. This idea of standards and reliability was also applied to decor and design, creating a total brand experience that connoted quality and safety to travelers.
Holiday Inn was one of the first movers in mandating that properties have consistent standards in 1957, when the chain began franchising in North America. This strategy was successful, allowing regional chains to expand throughout the US and, in some cases, beyond. And so, the idea of brand loyalty was born, and further reinforced when hospitality loyalty programs were introduced in the 1980s.
Before the rise of online rating sites and the ability to see guest reviews and photos, travelers relied on brand consistency when making their booking decisions. They were attracted to big box brands like Sheraton because they knew what to expect: a clean, safe room, with a consistent decor scheme. With the increase in global travel, advances in technology, evolution in photo-sharing and humblebrag nature of social media, we're seeing a swing in the other direction: guests still want consistency in safety, cleanliness and service, and of course the value of brand loyalty programs, but they're also seeking engagement with the locale when they stay at a hotel. Everything the guest experiences now needs to have a connection to the destination. And it needs to feel unique and different each time.
"Good design is good business" - Ian Schrager