The move by many groups from being property owning operators to being brand franchisors is gathering pace around the world and truly global brands are being created. Franchising enables growth to be speedy and to penetrate new territory using local knowledge and finance to create new branded units.
Branding however carries risks as well as the advantage of major international marketing clout through a strong identity. As a designer I worked for many individual hoteliers and one medium sized and one major brand for twenty years, completing over 400 hotel projects in that time, ranging from small conversions (a stable block into four bedrooms for example) through rolling refurbishment programmes to major extensions and new build resort hotels of up to 400 bedrooms.
In all instances the client saw design as a major tool in setting the character and sales ‘characteristics' of the hotel. Yet in no instance was the design brief phrased in such a way as to limit the initiative or creativity of our design studio. Nor was the brand standard compromised or damaged. We were able to interpret and develop the brand through reflecting the local culture and identity, whilst retaining a family likeness to previous designs thereby keeping the brand identity and standards intact but developing them.
Recently I have spoken with major brands on how they are retaining their brand identity across continents and have become concerned that the management of design is being achieved by actually removing the design concept and replacing it with a brand implementation. Some have said that they have bedroom schemes that are implemented by the builder and that there is no need for a designer to be involved. This is not always acceptable to communities whose architectural heritage is valuable to them, nor on a site where the setting of the architecture matters to the local community preventing a standard unit being implemented.
Often this kind of homogenisation is not acceptable to travellers either who want the brand standard but also want to feel that they are in a different state, to have an interior that reflects the location of their hostelry. Most difficult in this kind of approach is when dealing with a non-standard building, where considerable adaptation of the brand scheme may be required. Variety is after all the spice of life and should be possible within the brand standards
Another drawback of implementing this kind of standard scheme is that it removes from the brand the ability to change and grow with market conditions. A good designer is a honeybee, carrying the pollen of ideas and change from hotel group to hotel group. Removing the pollen stops fertilisation and creates stasis. The brand finds itself losing ground against competition, or maybe a franchisee acts to improve the standard of his unit causing the brand to look again at its own standards, or exciting other franchisees with the quality and causing problems for the franchisor in turn. Lack of progress through design leaves the brand behind the changes to be seen elsewhere in the hotel industry. Brand ceases to be brand but becomes bland, the first step to decay.
Design is a tool for increasing market share and exciting the traveller. Used with success by some chains such as Rocco Forte Hotels, invested in heavily by others to create new excitement in their property empire such as Starwood's under Barry Sternlicht, brand does not need to be bland. The rôle of the designer is crucial in interpreting the brand standards against the highest standards elsewhere. The designer is the grain of sand that makes pearls of individual hotels – set your standards, trust the designer and none of us will be losers.www.hoteldesigns.net