Hotel franchising dates back to the early 20th century, when a Boston hotel developer asked Cesar Ritz to use the names of his two famous European hotels: The Ritz in Paris and The Carlton in London. (Side-note: the Ritz-Carlton brand as we know it really didn’t take off and expand until the 1980s, under the direction of Horst Schultz).
Hotel chains/franchising really took off in the 1950s when Americans began traveling frequently, aided by improved highway systems and the proliferation of cars. Travelers found reassurance in the familiarity of names like “Holiday Inn” or “Howard Johnson.” They could expect a clean room and, depending on the chain, a good restaurant and maybe even a pool. As the world became globalized and international travel became much more common, chains began expanding and franchising to other countries where the quality of lodging options varied greatly or did not meet American standards. The Marriotts and Hiltons became (and often still are in many places) the best place to stay in the country.
But the world has changed and the hotel industry is changing as well. Brands are not as powerful as they once were. It used to be nearly impossible to open an independent hotel in a faraway place and expect travelers from afar unless a travel agent was convinced to sell the property. The Internet has allowed hotel operators to easily disseminate information and travelers can make their own travel decisions: researching, viewing photos, taking online tours, and reading reviews of non-branded properties.
We have frequently discussed in this blog how the vacationing landscape has changed and people are looking for more unique destinations where they can connect with place. A branded property may satisfy certain expectations, but it will also likely supply a level of familiarity and dullness that travelers are trying to avoid. Most of the existing brands have regimented standards that result in an uncanny similarity between properties. Brands actually distance visitors from the unique locations they have traveled to by designing hotels that uphold the brand rather than communicate with the hotel’s surroundings.
Brands also call up a host of preconceived notions that don’t always hold true around the globe. For example, a traveler from the U.S. may be looking for a nice hotel in Panama and overlook the Radisson, when in fact it is one of the nicest hotels in the country. Or, a traveler may bypass the Four Seasons in Bali because they anticipate it being too expensive (because of the branding) when it may actually be cheaper than the competition.
These are some of the reasons why the Resort at Isla Palenque shall remain unbranded. The island will provide enough justification for visitors to be attracted to it.