ALIS in wonderbland 

This week we have been mostly enjoying ALIS at a distance as the first big conference of the year kicks off and gushes various pipelines all over us. 

The healing mist has included not only the usual Look At How Big It Is, but the ticking off all segments and the how many conversions. Conversions are the hotel sector’s version of likes on social media; get enough and they bring in revenue, but they also give you a chance to crow over your followers and those observing. See? They like me more than you, awful brand of the past. We’re going to build a great big estate together. Like you couldn’t. 

But alongside the passive aggressive side eye of the conversions we have of course been enjoying some new brands for our judgement. 

First off the block was Hilton with Spark. The group has previously steered clear of the economy segment, but, as Matt Schuyler, Hilton’s chief brand officer, said, “we saw an opportunity” and that opportunity was everyone being skint. Or, as he put it,  “the consumer is evolving post-pandemic”. Into skintness, yes. Spark is, of course, a conversion brand and at this end of the market, adding the ‘by Hilton’ is a good call given Hilton’s reputation as a group above economy. Not a trick to be played too often though. 

Is this a sign that Airbnb has lost its grip on the economy segment, making it worth the effort of attracting those evolving customers? It could be one of the canaries. 

Never one to let a month go by without adding a brand, Accor was heading towards 50 with the launch of two. We’ll start with the Handwritten Collection. This is the least possibly brandy of all the brands, being both a collection and a conversion brand.

This is the third collection brand for the group, but the first in this segment and one which will help to round out the premium, midscale and economy brands division, soon to be torn asunder from lifestyle and luxury. Gotta catch ‘em all. 

Accor also launched Accor One Living, less a brand, more a platform, although given that DoubleTree is a brand based solely around a cookie, it doesn’t do to get too caught up in what makes a brand. Not in this sector anyway. 

Something else to give Airbnb a fresh new challenge for a fresh new year, One Living consolidates Accor’s branded residences and there are no flies on this. Savills reported that the branded residential sector has grown 150% over the past decade, creating more than 100,000 units across 640 projects around the world. Points to Accor for saying ‘global explorers’ and not ‘digital nomads’.

And while all this was going on, Ace was sold and the sector turned its attention from brands which could have been created by AI and real brands people give a damn about. Sortis Holdings is planning to double the portfolio to close to 30 properties and, for those wondering what this means for the integrity of the brand, we all know how this ends. Oh, and there might be campsites. 

Brands, whether created with love or a Boggle set, are destined for one thing: growth. Of themselves or to fill out a parent group. And then there is Aman. For those hotels left, the big brands  – and some consortia – can be harnessed for their distribution with as light or as heavy touch as they like. 

Most hotel brands are not there to engender customer loyalty, but fuel pipelines. As with Father Christmas, it helps you enjoy the 25th December more if you embrace the truth. It might not be magic, but someone, somewhere, cared just a little when they thought about where to place that chipboard. And there is joy to be had in that. And if you’re good, next year you might get the one you want. 

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