The hospitality industry has experienced radical changes over the past 40 years, to the point of being near unrecognizable for an old-school 1980s. Hospitality branding has also had to evolve to meet this new landscape.
Travel is not just more accessible, but each client has the power to handle their own booking and to look for recommendations without any intermediary.
Meanwhile, offers have multiplied and specialized. For hospitality businesses, the client’s freedom comes with a high degree of unpredictability.
A consistent, unique, and recognizable brand can surpass the hoops and detours that exist between clients and your booking page.
Your hospitality branding is the collection of elements that express your unique value proposition to each potential client. It encompasses aesthetic features such as logos and color schemes and the ideals, values, and type of experience that clients expect from you.
Your branding should be distinctive and evocative. When a potential client hears your hotel’s name or comes across their logo, they should be reminded of your brand’s story.
However, a cohesive brand should be reflected on the small details: décor, company language, uniforms, and even special offers should have the same effect. This brand will also carry with it your established reputation, for better or worse.
The most prominent brands in the hospitality sector correspond to luxury hotels, such as The Plaza or the Waldorf Astoria. These brands were built over decades and on countless media mentions, celebrity endorsements, and even iconic locations.
This type of branding often feels inaccessible for most up-and-coming hotels or guest houses. Yet, you can still create a new brand that is recognizable in its niche. But why should you? What is this investment worth – and how will it reflect on the number of potential guests that cross your door?
A recognizable and unique brand will generate two critical phenomena that are closely linked to word-of-mouth referrals:
These two things will affect how your potential clients think of you and speak about you, both before and after their stay. Especially in the niche of leisure travel, most clients make their final purchases based on emotions and their desire for experiences. As a result, they will pay more attention to in-person referrals and recommendations rather than those from online review sites.
Finally, a recognizable name will help spur the clients “on the fence,” help them close their booking, and potentially turn them into ambassadors.
Truly outstanding branding can be the factor that helps clients click on your name rather than on the potentially dozens of other online results.
This is particularly important on booking portals. Here, each booking requires a final leap of trust – especially if clients are traveling from distant countries or if they will need to pay a deposit. Clients are more likely to take this chance with a reputation that feels credible and has a reputation behind it.
This effect frequently snowballs: users are more likely to click on the names they recognize first, which will slowly move you up their rankings. This will increase your chances of being seen by more people in the future.
From a business point of view, we like to think that statistics and cold, hard numbers guide our purchasing decisions. When it comes to marketing – and especially in the hospitality and leisure sectors – we know that what often closes a sale is an emotional connection.
This is something best achieved by having your brand tell a story. By incorporating your company’s goals, charitable initiatives, and side projects, you will show the client that you have the same values in mind.
In turn, “like will please like” – and a potential client will be more likely to trust you, to talk about you, and to return to you if they feel reflected in your mission.
Once again, the value of being deemed trustworthy by clients should not escape your notice. Clients are about to entrust you with one of the most critical aspects of their “happy time.” They need to know at a profound level that you care about it as much as they do and will deliver on your promises.
The three aspects above will, hopefully, ensure that each client who has already stayed with you acts as an ambassador. However, their work in disseminating your offer will not end there.
As each one of them tells stories about their journey, your hotel and their experience within it should feature in them. Eventually, the people around them – who have never been your direct clients – will become your fans. This is something you can cash in for later when they are ready to make a similar trip. They will want to become a part of your story.
All four factors described here rest on your name’s ability to evoke a simple, straightforward, and pleasant story.
At first glance, the process to establish a legendary hospitality brand is an involved and expensive one. Due to their effect on guest retention and loyalty, this is an effort worth undertaking.
For this level of hospitality branding, some of the aspects you will need to consider include consistency, authenticity, and the ability to provide relevant custom offerings.
Your image should encompass all logos, feelings, and communications that your hotel engages in.
At its most basic level, this will include:
In many ways, the best examples of this usually come from luxury or high-end brands. There is an already established set of rules that immediately evoke luxury and sophistication – from stylized fonts to low-pitched voices and a specific type of lighting.
However, the same concepts apply to other niches. For example, let’s look at a rural boutique hotel close to a well-known wool shepherding region. This place is branded as a nature escape, where guests can detoxify and relax in an area with its own “character” and history:
Today’s travel industry is shaped by the desire to experience sensations and cultures not genuinely available at home.
A few decades ago, it was enough to include a few pineapples to provide a “tropical” experience. Nowadays, customers are savvy enough to have read about local people. They may recognize when an off-season fruit is coming from a can – and their reviews won’t reflect kindly on the idea of being sold a “prepackaged experience.”
On the other hand, if you address them with honesty and authenticity, they will respond in kind. For locations that offer event management or planning services, this will include being upfront about what you can do. Turn your expertise into part of your hospitality branding, trust it, and confidently steer clients towards a specific choice.
Currently, the traditional division between business and leisure travel is becoming progressively blurrier. Conferences and seminars now actively seek to entice attendees with fun opportunities – while even those on vacation will expect at least basic internet connectivity.
In this sense, the act of defining your niche will require some trade-offs and some strategic thinking. However, once you settle on a specific place, you should align the rest of the brand with it.
First, you will need to know what you stand for: the kind of experience you want to provide to your ideal customer. Then, as you develop the persona behind your ideal customer, consider:
If the size of your business allows it, you can also divide your offer across a handful of sub-brands. It is crucial, however, that they all keep an overarching idea that unifies them.
At some point, you may need to compromise between widening your appeal and increasing your expertise at a particular service. When possible, always aim for more expertise.
A brand narrative offers the opportunity to combine your offer, history, values, mission, and staff in a way that flows logically. It does this by providing a story that potential clients can empathize with and evoke a series of specific feelings in them.
This narrative must start from the objective: your location, your amenities, or the specific services you provide. However, it should be carefully layered with the subjective and personable. Common strategies used to weave a moving brand narrative include:
At the core of the hospitality industry is your business’s ability to care for people and make them feel a certain way. Rather than massage sessions, soft linens, or access to a health club, the actual service that each guest is purchasing from you will be the overall experience of their stay.
Naturally, this experience needs to be pleasant. More importantly, it should match the expectation they built pre-stay, when they first engaged with your brand via social media, o during your booking.
To master this point, you will need to return to the customer’s shoes. As tempting as it would be to curate every single detail of their stay, focus instead of:
The overall commitment to quality should never be left behind. However, impress your guests at specific moments that are key to their experience will be much more efficient.
Some of these critical moments include check-in, room service, or hiring any additional services (such as side trips or guided tours). It is important to bring about your best face during these moments and include a detail that ties it to your hospitality branding.
If you manage to amplify the link between your brand and these details enough, clients may look over any points where you couldn’t meet their expectations.
Ideally, you should capitalize on this goodwill by remaining in touch post-stay. This can be done via referral codes, future discounts, or full-fledged loyalty programs.
Provide subtle cues that inspire your guests to snap their own pictures and embody your brand in their own way. Artistic thank you notes, floral arrangements, and pool vistas can all invite guests to share their views of your services. For their direct (and not-so-direct) contacts, the story they tell about you will have much more weight than the one on the official website.
If possible, directly ask your clients to post their pictures or share your hashtags. User-generated content is seen as more reliable. This will also turn guests into your partners, making them feel like your allies.
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The hospitality industry is under constant change, but never at this speed. As companies learn to target a more aware, experience-focused audience, they need to adapt their branding efforts. Current travelers and tourists now seek more intangible experiences than before. Rather than superficial pleasantness and faux-exotic decor, they are ever more interested in authenticity and social responsibility.
Your branding is a unique opportunity to tell a story that matches these new needs. To do so, it should be coherent and recognizable, even by people who have not interacted with you directly. This will increase your word-of-mouth reach, both electronically and in person.
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