Chains Vs Independents
As part of the Tourism Sector Deal awarded to our industry by the Theresa May Government, the UK is to receive 130,000 new hotel bedrooms spread across the country.
However, in practical terms, how these rooms will be built remains unclear. Will they be allocated to Local Authorities who will designate sites for hotel construction, or will the stock be passed to developers, who must then navigate their own planning applications.
As we don’t know, we can only speculate. But would we rather see a majority of this stock run by chain hotels, or by independents? What are the benefits and pitfalls of each model?
There are some, anecdotally, who allude that chain hotels are out of fashion. Ross Millward, (pictured left), event consultant, venue relations, First Choice Conference & Events, disagrees. “Chain properties aren’t out of fashion, you generally know what you’re getting with them,” says Millward. “Many chains need regular refurbishment to stay ‘on trend’ to appeal to the mass audience; the size of their markets dictate that they can’t really be niche.”
Without a large spread of properties to absorb costs, are independent venues too expensive? Millward says it isn’t so black and white. He adds: “You can’t conclude that independents are more expensive than chains as it depends on the product and services that each of them offers. The nature of independent venues means that you can’t really generalise about them, except to say they’re flexible in commercial terms. They can personalise event packages and prices for each client, without the brand restrictions faced by chain properties. The more unique independent venues can sometimes command a higher price tag based on their desirability and fit for specific events.”
Millward asks, which are more flexible when negotiating price and packages: independents or chains? He says: “While independent venues don’t have strict quotas to meet (meaning they can usually be flexible), price flexibility can depend on the relationships that agencies build with venues. Chain venues always have account managers and smart agencies work closely with them to get the best outcome for clients, including the best value for money.
“Chain venues sometimes have larger capacities than independents and can often discount rates dependant on the number of delegates.”
Jubilee Mandl, commercial director at London Hilton on Park Lane, says that chains vs independents has become a prominent discussion point in recent years with lots of industry experts evaluating how hotels impact the hospitality sector and how they respond to the market.
“In a world where everything is connected, and things are equally excellent, there are limited areas that you can innovate in,” says Mandl. “However, the ways in which delegates travel and how companies operate have transformed onto a digital platform where online marketing and social media play a vital role. Equally, customer preferences and habits have changed, and our industry has to adapt.”
Mandl says being part of a bigger hotel chain with a global presence allows them to invest and transform how they work and who they reach; they have bigger means and can engage with a wider range of global customers on all levels. However, Mandl adds that rigid policy can be a hindrance. She says: “Bigger is not always better. Usually, there are strict policies and procedures to be followed that can sometimes allow less room for flexibility and implementation can take time, potentially restricting adaptability for fast turnarounds.
“Independent hotels of course also have their own processes and procedures in place, but they could be a little more likely to adapt according to their property, allowing them to customise on a more bespoke level. However, independents do not often have the resources and development opportunities as chain hotels.”
Being an independent hotel allows for flexibility in meeting the wellness needs of organisers and their delegates, according to Dan Rose-Bristow, co-owner and managing director at The Torridon, an independent luxury hotel in the Scottish Highlands.
“For our meetings package, operating on an exclusive-hire basis only with just 18 bedrooms allows us to create an offering based entirely on the organisers’ needs, without the requirements of rigid pricing structures,” says Rose-Bristow. “This has also allowed us to adapt quickly to the increasing cultural shift towards the wellness movement, which we are increasingly seeing being replicated in the MICE industry.
“Our newly launched Mindful Meetings package helps planners create a wellness experience for delegates through curated activities and workshops in the peaceful Scottish Highlands. The retreat effortlessly blends mindfulness with carved-out time for blue-sky thinking to reinforce the ‘feel better, think better’ mentality.”
“Working with a local speaker agency, ‘Change your world’, to offer bespoke personal development programmes, each session is chosen with the planners’ desired outcomes in mind. These can include topics centred on mental health, such as ‘mindfulness meditation’ and ‘the 10 keys to happier living’, to more corporate-led conversations on ‘managers managing stress’ and ‘excelling under pressure’, completing a holistic approach to delegate wellbeing.”