Lindsey, what was the catalyst for rebranding Preferred Hotels & Resorts last year?
Ironically, we were going to launch another brand. But when we started looking at what was happening in the landscape; chains getting into our space and continuing to launch new brands, we made the decision to do the reverse and simplify and streamline what was a house of brands to a branded house. Our ultimate mission was to become a much stronger consumer-facing brand. I think it was luck on one hand and good foresight on the other. We happened to hit and do the rebranding right at a time when the travel trade, the consumer, and the media were saying: “Thank God someone is simplifying this”. It’s a very cluttered and confusing landscape.
There are 30 new-build properties joining your collection – how can you be assured they will meet the criteria?
That’s a great question. Obviously, we know the developer and the management company, and we do a lot of research on that. We look at design specs and once a hotel is open, we immediately inspect it. There is a 90-day window, in which based on the hotel being open, we can re-evaluate which collection it joins – if for some reason the hotel doesn’t meet the criteria – which we’ve built into our contract. I would say 99 per cent of the time we’re pretty accurate based on the history of the developer, the management company going in and the designers.
How do you define the properties in your five collections — Legend, LVX, Lifestyle, Connect, and Residences?
We were trying to get away from the traditional ranking. I like to use analogies and personal experiences. For example, I know that if I’m getting dressed up to go to a fine-dining establishment, that’s considered a luxury experience. However, 80 per cent of the time, I would prefer to put on my jeans and my favourite sweater and go to my local Italian restaurant down the street. To me, that’s considered a luxury as well. There are different experiences for different times in our life. It goes from the ultra-luxury, which is for wonderful, special occasions, to more of a casual-luxury experience, where you want to be in a good location, with all the right amenities but don’t necessarily need bellmen or round-the-clock concierge services.
You talk about chains getting into your space. What’s your strategy for dealing with Curio by Hilton, Autograph Collection and Luxury Collection, for example?
It’s a compliment that they decided to get into our space. It validates what we’ve been doing for 50 years. We got a head start on them. The good news is that we don’t lose hotels to them – we just compete for new hotels. Hotel owners are always deliberating: “Do I want to be independent, or do I want to affiliate with a chain?” and now it’s a more competitive landscape, but to be honest, I look it as more of an opportunity. What it’s done is open the eyes of owners who now realise that there is a space that maybe they weren’t aware of. Now that the chains are getting into the landscape, we are getting to sit at the tables with owners that maybe we wouldn’t have before. It’s a good thing. It keeps us on our toes.
There seems to be trend in travellers seeking out independent properties with unique story – do you agree?
Absolutely. If you ask somebody, “are you an independently minded traveller or are you a cookie cutter traveller that likes consistency?” Of course that person is going to say: “Oh, of course I’m an independently minded person”. Independent hotels are a reflection of people’s lifestyles and they are authentic to the destination. They are one-of-a-kind. Years ago, before review sites and social media, people craved that consistency. Now it’s so transparent, travellers have a lot more confidence and comfort to stay in this type of property, whereas before, traditionally, the safe play would have been to stay at the chain.
Tell us about the creation of the family-friendly “Preferred Family” label?
That was very intentional. You see hotels say they are family friendly and it’s because they can bring a crib to your room. We wanted to go a step further than that and we created a very detailed list, from connecting rooms, to whether there are babysitters available and what kind of crib they will bring; what other services, amenities and programming available for guests. It’s a great group of properties that truly want to cater to family travel and there are some truly exceptional programmes being put together. It’s child entertainment but it allows the parents to enjoy their vacations as well.