HB on the Scene: Importance of soft brands highlighted at Hunter

The 35th annual Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, brought together the hotel industry for networking, information and education sessions.

During the Brands + Owners: A 360° Perspective breakout session, moderated by Glenn Haussman, host, No Vacancy Podcast, and one of the moderators of the Hotel Business Hot Topics series, panelists Matt Marquis, CEO, Pacifica Hotels; T. Dupree Scovell, managing partner/chief investment officer, Woodbine Development Corporation; Talene Staab, brand leader, Home2 Suites by Hilton; Jim Tierney, SVP, development & owner relations, Hyatt Hotels Corporation; and Todd Turner, CEO, OTO Development, discussed the relationship between brands and owners, especially when it comes to soft brands, which offers owners a little more flexibility.

Marquis said that prior to the COVID, a good portion of Pacifica’s portfolio was independent, but, like many other companies, they reassessed during the pandemic. “We had been looking at the soft brands and running the models—and those models were great,” he said. “We tested one and it seemed to work out. Coming out of the pandemic, we felt that there was a need to have credibility.”

That credibility was especially important when it came to cleanliness protocols. “While we had a great reputation in the industry, we’re still and independent group,” he said. “So [we decided] to stick with the brands coming out of COVID. We went with our good friends at Hilton and some of their soft brands, and it has been a tremendous success in our portfolio. We love both now.”

Hyatt’s Tierney said that his company sees growth in soft brands. “It allows hotels to maintain [their] identity but be able to plug into a larger reservation and support system, ” he said.

Scovell added that “you have a lot more flexibility with those independent and soft brands to be able to do what you want to do.”

Soft brands offer a good way for owners to enter the brand space, according to Hilton’s Staab. “We look at a lot of ways that owners can come into the Hilton system,” she said. “Sometimes it’s though the soft brands where [owners] are finding that there is extra value in having that [reservation] engine and consistency and reliability behind [them]. That helps bring new guests and new owners to us.”

Turner said that he is a “huge” believer in the hard brands, adding, “If you put them in the right place and build them right, you can produce phenomenal results…We know that the main drivers of why people select the hotels they select—its location, price and reliability.”