Full Circle? Exploring the Push Away from Big Brands
By David Ashen Principal & Founder, dash design | April 19, 2020
Bestselling author Stephen King once famously said, "Sooner or later, everything old is new again." Perhaps King had been eyeing the hotel industry when he made this remark, because many of the trends we are seeing today have roots in what was in vogue an astonishing 60 or 70 years ago.
My memories of those times are not only culled from my background on the hospitality design side, but also from my own past; my father's family owned several small hotels in the Borsch Belt, the iconic summer resort region of New York's Catskill Mountains, back in the first part of the 20th century. Proving out the famous saying I just referenced, that part of the Catskills is well-known again today, due to the television series hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Who would've thought this area would have a resurgence of cultural relevance in the year 2020?
A Walk Down Memory Lane
There is a good deal of ebb and flow in the hotel industry, it seems, with owners, operators and developers constantly going back and forth between if it's better to go independent or to head down the "safer" route of attaching to an existing brand and its proven success. If you take a closer look at the history behind the cycle, and the push-pull that follows, you'll see that, at one time, independent hotels were all there were.
In the 1950s and 1960s, before there were global brands, independent hotels thrived, including the famous ones like The Plaza or The Pierre in New York City, the Fontainebleau in Miami, or the Laurel-in-the-Pines, in Lakewood, NJ, where I grew up. The Laurel-in-the-Pines was owned by the Tisch family, who of course have become iconic in the hotel industry. These properties became the center of local life and a happening place to be seen, and a hub in cities and small towns across the globe. With the advent of the automobile and the highway system, roadside motels flourished and developed into branded chains that afforded guests an experience they could count on.
As bigger brands emerged in the 1970s and 1980s – enter Hilton and Marriotts galore – these smaller concepts fell by the wayside and hotel guests enjoyed the comforting, assuring experience that came with branded territory. Soon the market was flooded with flagged hotels, opening one after another, to great reception. The growth of domestic and international travel, and the associated rise in faster-paced living, supported this upsurge and created a virtual sea of hotel brands that, while predictable, lacked the flavor of the independents and grand hotel counterparts of yesteryear. Similar color palettes, furnishings, placement and public spaces were the hallmark of these experiences and travelers liked the "we know exactly what to expect" feeling.