The Craving for Local Color and Culture
By David Ashen Principal & 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.