By David Grosfils, Head of Hallmark Hotels
The UK hotel industry has undergone significant changes in recent years, seeing a rapid growth in discount hotels on the back of a global economic turndown, and an increase in overseas investment in hotel portfolios due to the weaker pound.
Equally, the shift from independent hotels to big-brand buy-outs has continued at pace. This international interest has led to some interesting acquisitions and change in management teams, the most recent of which being the sale of QHotels and the subsequent appointment of Redefine BDL to manage the portfolio for incoming investors.
This changing landscape offers interesting opportunities for the independent groups that remain in the market. But how do we capitalise on the agility and individuality that independence brings to harness opportunities in 2018?
Uniqueness in the independent market
Without operating under the control of a global owner, independents can dare to be different, thrive in their uniqueness and embrace their quirks.
Hallmark Hotels, owned and operated by British parent company, Topland, is in a relatively unique situation in today’s UK hotel market. Our regional brand of 27 hotels is still embryonic, which has given us plenty of scope to react to changes in market conditions and appeal to exactly what guests want from their stay or visit.
Our journey started by defining our internal vision to be the home of great hospitality. The common thread running through the group is not design-based; it is focused on people – our guests and our teams – and experiences. We have worked hard to develop the Hallmark culture, allowing our hotels to stand tall as individuals by tailoring the guest experience and developing their own stamp on our offering. We are in a people business; our people are our success and we empower them to be distinct and personal, which has been reflected in our recent Team Engagement scores, and improved TripAdvisor rankings.
Speed and agility to adapt
A clear advantage that independent hotel groups hold over their big brand rivals is our ability to be nimble and respond to the demands of the market swiftly and with flexibility.
Every industry finds itself operating in an era of social media, where online reviews and candid photographs – the highs and lows of a customer’s experience – are immediately visible to the outside world. In the mid-market segment, we must ask ourselves how we are positioned to offer accommodation experiences that resonate with increasingly informed and empowered guests. We trust our dedicated team to respond quickly to this feedback, take more risks, and push the boundaries that would often be restricted by bigger brand guidelines that are often led from outside of the UK.
Rooms make the money; F&B service defines the brand
Bedroom sales are known to make the most profit but it’s the informal and relaxed food and beverage service that is offered that defines the brand. Focus should be shifted to reflect brand values through food service and menu development, adaptable to leisure or business guests. Independent owner- operator hotels have much more control over development and menu innovation, allowing them to offer informal and localised food choices, giving them an edge over global brands who are often restricted by large purchasing agreements and direction.
Warmth and human touch
Guests not only want, but expect, a genuinely warm, personal approach alongside the guaranteed hygiene factors of value and quality. While other hotel groups are striving for formality and predictability, independent hotel chains can be the genuine, warm alternative where guests feel ‘right at home’.
At Hallmark Hotels, our stand-out is our people: the sincere, warm and excellent people who provide a personalised touch.
As large global hotel brands have rolled out their own versions of boutique offerings, they will also try to leverage uniqueness and flexibility, to the extent that they can as sub-segments of large brands. Even so, truly independent hotel groups still lead the way as the most authentically adaptable offerings, and we must embrace this as the key element that gives us an edge over our global counterparts.