In recent years, we have seen a real shift in the way hotels are consumed. Travellers have gone from looking for reassuring standards to seeking unique, personalised experiences.
Although there are different price points widely adopted by hospitality brands around the world, the sector faces a common challenge: to emerge in a sea of uniformity. The hotel industry seems to be caught up in a wave of the same promise to travellers: a unique, memorable and unexpected experience, a promise that, while seductive, often goes unheeded. Without a real reflection on what makes the experience unique and memorable, it is emptied of its substance and becomes standard, making it impossible to build brand equity strong enough to create preference. In the competitive world of hotels, differentiation through brand storytelling has never been so crucial.
The brand to emancipate itself from the rational and enter into the emotional:
Hotel brands can be viewed through the prism of the creative industries. Take fashion, for example: hotel boutiques would be for young designers, luxury hotels for couture brands.
On the one hand, there are the confidential addresses that we tell people about, that we share with those close to us, while jealously guarding them from others; on the other, the hyper service, the aura, the power of traditional luxury. In both cases, what emerges is a sense of the exceptional.
What's more, the association between fashion labels, palaces and upscale boutique hotels has never been so strong. They turn the ephemeral into a lever for the exceptional, seducing a new clientele, whether brand connoisseurs or not, in one night or over dinner.
This summer, Dior Beauty decided to embrace the mild Sicilian climate by perching its beauty cabins among the trees of the Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina. At the same time, the Italian elegance of Lora Piana has infused the club La Réserve à la Plage. With specially designed items, beach furnishings, deckchairs, parasols and cushions personalised with the brand's codes, everything has been thought out to create a unique experience.
These partnerships leave nothing to chance. They are indicative of strong hotel brands, able to offer an art of living that resonates with the aesthetics of these fashion giants.
In one industry as in the other, the brand becomes a lever for moving away from functional consumption to feed a need for belonging and recognition. What's more, hoteliers aggregate what every brand dreams of having in abundance: their customers' available time. An extraordinary source of income, but nothing without a story.
Ignoring brand storytelling is investing at a loss
By teaming up with the greatest designers, architects, chefs and artists, hotels attract attention and become veritable cultural hubs. But once visitors have been attracted, a major challenge arises: that of storytelling, experience and emotion. As we all know, a lasting bond is not built solely on top-of-the-range materials or breathtaking architecture.
Building a narrative approach that links all the tangible elements under a coherent banner makes the brand story tangible.
Each guest then becomes an ambassador, telling the brand story through their own unique experience and emotion. So how do you make storytelling obvious and desirable to all stakeholders and their customers? The work involved in building a narrative must not be confined to powerpoint slides. Large groups and independent hoteliers alike need to be able to make their story unique and appropriate, because without a story there is no connection.
Whether you're part of a group or independent, you have to work hard to develop your own identity story, looking for the smallest differentiating element, cross-referencing it with customer aspirations to make it the sieve through which everything must be screened (itinerary, design, F&B, etc.).
The big groups will retort that it's difficult to reconcile the tension between brand standards and uniqueness; the independents that they don't have the clout of the big guys.
Some groups skilfully combine the unique and the standard. MGallery, where the unique history of each hotel meets that of the travellers, Handwritten, where the story of the hotels is based on that of the owners, or Curio, which positions itself as a soft brand for hotels rich in personality.
And some independent hotels are succeeding in developing a phenomenal aura: Il Pellicano, La Mamounia, Château Marmont, Villa Passalacqua, The Mark and Ramdane Tourhami's Drei Berge Hotel, to name but a few.
Customers will respond to a singular promise with emotion and desire. To similar brand promises, they will make a rational choice, based on price, SEO position or practicality. What is not invested in brand equity will automatically have to be compensated for massively in tactical and acquisition costs... At the top of the pyramid of values now sits the moment experienced and the emotion felt with a view to being shared. Should hoteliers and OTAs now add an emotional rating to their platforms?
In the age of an ultra-connected society that embraces change, pushing back the frontiers of audacity, creativity and hyper-service is a futile exercise in building customer loyalty without authentic roots. It is only when a stay becomes a personal story that the power of the emotional bond is created.
Hotel brands have everything they need to be the most desirable in the world, to be even more in tune with the times, their communities and their culture.
More than ever, the hotel industry is waking up, vibrating and humming, and we're here to take it even further.
HANI is a consultancy and creative studio that supports luxury and lifestyle brands with a vertical entirely dedicated to hospitality. Positioning, customer experience, campaign production, HANI works with brands such as Orient Express, MGallery, Sofitel, OKKO Hotels...
Adrien SAMMUT - founder of HANI.
Yohan AMIOT - in charge of the hotel division.