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By Frances Kiradjian

Wyndham Hotels’ June launch of its Trademark Hotel Collection, a line of independently run three- and four-star properties, is the latest installment in a trend that has swept the hotel world and showing no signs of fading: the soft brand.

But the shape-shifting creature that is the soft-brand has grown from those early low-stake experiments in which corporates tried their hand at masquerading in independents’ clothing. Recent installments, like Trademark and Hilton’s Tapestry Collection, show an increased confidence in the soft-brand concept, marketing their properties at to a luxury market and situating themselves in upscale locations.

Unchained from the strictures of a chain’s corporate identity, ‘soft-brand’ hotels are afforded more freedom to forge their own identity, which allows a more individual personality to develop. A stay at a Trademark hotel would no doubt feel less of an explicitly branded experience than a night at a Wyndham Grand.

As our recent survey proved, many hoteliers in the Boutique & Luxury Lifestyle sphere see the rise of soft-brands as the biggest consideration to pay attention to in the future of this much-loved sector. As huge multinational corporations muscle in on the same territory we’ve painstakingly carved out with our own slender means, adopting much the same tactics that defined our success, true independents will still play a vital role in the future of this space.

But there are others in similar positions for whom the soft-brands have been a welcome arrival. Hotels with distinct identities, a strong following but facing financial uncertainty, for whom this hybrid arrangement has offered an appealing compromise: (relative) independence combined with a rock-solid financial backline and those other perks that come with working for the giants, such as vast marketing outreach and online-travel-agency visibility.

As the corporate behemoth prepares to muscle in on our beautiful corner of the hotel empire, there is another force gathering momentum and it centers around your beloved BLLA. From our inception we’ve made it our mission to look after our members’ interests and support true Boutique & Luxury Lifestyle hotels. To this end we have carefully selected the best hotels in our sector, independently verifying their authenticity via our own exacting criteria, and will be promoting them via our global booking portal launching later this fall, which turns over 100% of proceeds to the hoteliers themselves. The site will showcase the soft-brands in a specific area of the site, noting their connective big brand. We are an inclusive community and welcome the soft-brands to our little edge of the world. There will never be a threat of the big chains monopolizing the booking platform as all things are controlled and still centered around independent hotels.

One thing is certain: the growth of soft-brands is showing no signs of slowing. The boutique hotel industry has to adapt to survive and it is in all our interests to find a way to thrive in a world where the division between corporate and independent is more subtle and insidious than ever. But, for us believers, the appeal of true boutique hotels remains something that will never be bettered.

About Frances Kiradjian

Founder of the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA), Frances Kiradjian, a 25-year hospitality and travel industry seasoned professional, created BLLA to give a  voice to independent properties as well as small brands around the world, offering them the opportunity and the means to compete on a level playing field with major hotel  companies. BLLA serves more than 750 members, including hotels and the suppliers that sustain them.

Frances states why she created the BLLA. “My passion for independent boutique & lifestyle hotels are what drove me to create a place where leaders in this hotel sector can meet on common ground,” said Frances. “I wanted to institute programs for enhanced awareness to global travelers and offer vendors the opportunity to focus their marketing efforts through sponsorship of BLLA programs, events & conferences.”

Kiradjian is a graduate of the highly respected Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC).

Contact: Frances Kiradjian

francesk@blla.org / 818-264-4810

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