Cultural difference - a room with an alternative view

In the furiously contested hotel industry, differentiation has proved to be a key factor in effective integration and expansion. Gareth Samuel looks at how hotel franchises gain extended success in differing global locations by allowing the franchise owners creative control to maximise their premises’ cultural authenticity.

The life of a high-flying businessperson often comes with an almost nomadic lifestyle as a prerequisite. For the travelling businessperson, who is desperate to unwind after a series of high-pressured meetings in unfamiliar territory, nothing makes the heart sink faster than the monotony of a clinical hotel room. The familiarity of rooms, which are sometimes indistinguishable right down to the pillow-mints, has been a real problem for hoteliers in previous years.

According to Madeleine Pullman and Stephani Robson, authors of ‘Hotels: Differentiating with design’, the style of a hotel is crucial in appealing to customers.They write: “It wasn’t that long ago that most people would describe a hotel by talking about its location, or the nice views of the beach or mountains from their room. (Now) more and more hotels use design and style as a way of differentiating themselves from other properties or brands.

“This makes sense; hotels want to generate word of mouth advertising - ‘buzz’ - in a crowded and very competitive marketplace, and bold design is one effective way to accomplish this.”

But in order to alter the style, maintaining individuality by reflecting the cultural traditions of the surrounding location, is crucial.

Jonathan Sheard, Senior Vice President of the Mercure Hotels franchise, which currently has over 700 hotels across the world, believes that hotels must change atmospherically to reflect their location. He says: “Our hotels are built around strong domestic markets and they are locally inspired, making sure our hotels are relevant to the country they operate in.”

“If we start a hotel in Spain, we have to make sure it looks and feels like a Spanish hotel, if we have a hotel in the UK, it’s the same.

“Clients expect not everything to be the same in different hotels; they expect the look and the feel of hotels to reflect where they are in the world. Of course, for any midscale hotel we have to provide the essentials, which our customers will require. For example, every one of our hotels serves breakfast at the same time in the morning, but depending on the location, we allow the local franchise owner to select what is on the menu.”

Typically, a hotel chain requires a high level of start-up investment due to the sheer scale of hotel business operation. In the UK, along with Mercure hotels, the Roomzzz Aparthotels franchise offers a twist on the traditional hotel chain. The franchise recruits hoteliers who offer all the service of a hotel, but with the functionality of an apartment, allowing customers to cook and feel at home within their own individual apartment for a short stay.

This differentiation in hotel operation and design, driven by the franchising system for expansion, comes from clients requiring more than just a bed for the night – hotel chains now have to differentiate themselves from their competition through recognising varying traditions.

Jonathan adds: “If you go into any of our bedrooms, you will find at least one thing that reminds you of the location where you are staying. For example one of our Paris hotels, next to the Eiffel Tower, has a picture of the tower from a unique angle.”

But recognising cultural differences and using them to integrate the design and feel of a hotel into the local area is no mean feat. Many businesses, in the past, have been caught out by not making enough effort to truly integrate themselves into their new market. Hotel franchises have an automatic advantage here by recruiting localised hoteliers to bring their own expertise and influence to the running of their new hotel branch – which many are using to reap huge benefit.

Jonathan continues: “Our business model is based around a franchise owner who is passionate about the hotel industry and has the experience to match. We recruit local hoteliers and they themselves use their local experience to make sure the hotel fits in with the area.

“One good example is in restaurants. In city hotels, the competition for restaurants is massive and so we need to adapt our locations to keep customers eating in. We set the restaurant opening times and then work with the franchise owner to select their own catering staff, what goes on the menu and decoration, to make it as locally relevant as possible.”

By constantly innovating through the recognition of cultural awareness and innate intuition of a new franchise owner, hotel franchises are able to make sure that their premises, wherever it is placed in the world, reflects its surroundings in every aspect of operation.

A typical hotel will become a intermittent home to a kaleidoscope of different nationalities with differing requirements from where they stay. But one view they will all most likely share is that they want wherever they are staying to be representative of its surroundings. By engaging local cultures, hotel franchises are able to differentiate themselves from their competition and create media hype to put them on the fast track to fortune, while giving a customer a much more appealing vicinity to rest their head.