It sucks to be a brand

The hierarchy of who or what is most evil in hotels is an ever-shifting beast, dependant on what new thing has entered the market and is being misunderstood at the time.

At various points in recent years the devil’s horns have been worn by: the internet, the OTAs (the internet, but more so) and Airbnb (the internet, selling people’s homes. But one group has come in for a consistent kicking and that’s the brands.

A brand is intangible. And yet it charges franchise fees, booking fees, fees for every occasion. All for something that many a shouty conference attendee suspects that they could really do for themselves. 

But while it may look brilliant being a brand, laying down all those mattress standards and deciding what smell gets pumped out into the street, the brands will tell that you that it’s not as fun as advertised.

Having a crappy time this week was IHG, which found itself reporting that part of its technology systems had been “subject to unauthorised activity”, with its apps and booking channels “significantly disrupted”.  

At the time of writing further detail was not forthcoming, but IHG has lately ditched Holidex, one of the oldest booking systems in the business, in favour of a lovely new system which delivered all kinds of nifty personalisation options and whatnot, working with Amadeus. Marriott signed up to the software last year. 

It would be a dark day for Amadeus’s aspirations in the hotel sector if the fault lay at its door and the ongoing investigation will reveal all. But IHG works with a number of different providers, all of whom could have failed to put 50p in the meter (or £1.50, £2, £2.50 depending on when you read this). 

And this is it. While it could have been any of dozens of parties, the buck and reputational damage ultimately lands with IHG, because these hotels – these hotels it doesn’t own and may not even operate – are seen as belonging to it. We saw the same with Marriott’s PoS data breach, featuring systems the company had little or no control over. Guests may now find themselves thinking that maybe they don’t fancy staying in those hotels again. But they certainly don’t think that won’t eat somewhere with those PoS machines again.

So it sucks to be a brand, taking the repetitional hit every time. And some hotel brands would have you believe that this is their contribution to the hotel stack. They don’t need to put any skin in the game, because their good name is at stake. 

And there may be something in that, although generally one’s bank manager is more fussed about cash and less about what you might have been up to on Twitter, although there are, of course, some exceptions to that. But maybe your bank should have been more thorough before taking you on as a client. 

So while we look at IHG twisting in the wind of a storm it didn’t create, would things be better for the group if it had a physical stake in its hotels? This is not to say it doesn’t pay due care and attention to operations, but if it had something other than reputation to lose?

To be fair to Marriott, its big giant data breach which it imported with Starwood lead to a big giant fine of £99m, although this was revised down to just over a tenth of that. But cash, nonetheless. 

But one can’t help but think that next time  – and there always is one – the rest of the stack would feel a whole lot better if there was more of a sense that everyone was in it together. 

See? There’s no right way. It really does suck to be a brand. 

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