Go to Homepage


Will the father please introduce the bride and tell us who's who

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaWith post-Covid service standards dropping, travellers are scrutinising brand personality anew. They are drawing a blank. In the online sales blizzard, many are headed for a cheap 'bad marriage'. Some survival tips for a lookalike world.

Visit our Facebook pagePrintE-mail Page

by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

JUMP TO  Current column

They all look the same? That's because they are

Hugh Lawrie needs help: Online travel choices resemble the Miss Korea finals in 2013 when questions were raised about startling similarities between participants. Plastic surgery is a popular lifestyle choice in South Korea

ONE OF THE greatest changes in everyday life has been wrought not by technology or some clever app, but by something that happened imperceptibly in the dark. Tectonic shifts in brand ownership are the stuff of adrenalin-charged corporate chatter and TV serials but they rarely cause a ripple in the world of daily retail. People continue to buy their favourite stuff, puzzle over some changes, and life moves on.

Yet, the divorce between brand owners and their customers is one of the most significant shifts in relationships that has happened in our modern age.

When you look back, almost all major brands that achieved enduring recognition — from cars, clothes and perfumes to hotels and airlines — were once family businesses or small enterprises. They had clear mission statements. They strove to be the best. They were trusted. And they were represented by faces and names that became global icons — Ford, Ferrari, Dior, Levi, Hilton, Marriott, to name a few.

Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor

In the world of travel today, the words caveat emptor should ring in every ear. There is good reason for this. Small gems like Geneva's classic Beau Rivage — that has been with a single family since 1865 — are the exception, as is Hyatt, a unique mega-owner-operator that has kept control with the majority-owning Pritzker family.

Ownership has switched from individuals with vision, passion and a generational commitment to excellence, to cold and calculating investment behemoths whose sole purpose is to generate revenue for stakeholders as quickly as possible. There is limited scope for customer satisfaction though there is much advertised lip service.

As more and more fast money swills around, pressure has grown on managers to produce instant profits and cut costs. Staff have been shed. Service levels have dropped. Handshakes by general managers have been replaced by chatbots and app menus. This would have been a smooth swindle but for one unforeseen event — Covid. The pandemic cut businesses to their core and has starkly revealed emperors pirouetting in new clothes.

{Identifying brand personality has become terribly tricky online where a no-star dump and a five-star luxury haven look beguilingly similar

The visceral question for older discerning travellers as well as younger millennials graduating from knee-bruising boutiques to quality hotels is, "DAGNABBIT, WHICH BRAND?" Private capital has been on such an acquisition spree that hotel groups are hard pressed to describe the difference between the constituents of their exploding corporate families.

Global PR companies have been employed to come up with words of wisdom: "for gender fluid lifestyles", "for trailblazing guests like you", "an exhilarating experience of a lifetime", "an integrated resort", "an incredible paradigm shift". Some press releases end on a reassuring note: "Also enjoy free use of pool and lobby". You heard right. This is vexatious enough for editors' ears so think of what it does to travellers. Alexas everywhere must be scurrying to track down a 'disintegrated resort' that might be a tad cheaper for your wrecking ball of a family. For the record, the only hotel I know of in Asia that ever charged hotel guests for use of the pool (¥2,000 for a full day, this at launch in 2012), was the Palace Hotel Tokyo.

Travellers must fight back. This is an existential battle that can only be won by employing good old common sense and getting back to basics. First up, examine location and price. These are the two key factors that usually indicate where that sweet spot lurks. Avoid hotels that define themselves as six or seven-star unless you crave tasteless gold bling. Hotel classification officially stops at five.

You will want decent service. So it's time to explore brand standards and brand personality. This is where things get more slippery than eels in a bucket of oil. Unless, of course, you happen to be a cheerful gender-fluid sort.

One way to wade through the brand spatter is to trace your way up the corporate family tree to find the apex name. To use an analogy, if you were getting married you might ask yourself, "Is this a family I know or trust?" Let's say, Mr and Mrs Bedsmore are a charming couple, well-mannered and gracious. But they have several hundred kids, a great many recently adopted. Which one would you marry? Do these kids — some staid, others wild, all posting identical social media blather — carry the parent DNA? Online, a two-star dump and a five-star luxury haven look beguilingly similar. Marriott, one of the largest groups today, runs over 8,500 properties around the world. That's the scale of the problem for New Age road warriors.

Post-Covid, the hunt for authentic and trustworthy brands has begun anew.

Those with deeper pockets will sensibly opt for names that have avoided messy acquisition orgies where no one knew who'd been kissing whom. Here you'll find brands like Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Park Hyatt, Raffles, Aman, Oberoi and Rosewood. All have stayed firmly in the luxury niche lane. Shangri-La is another tidy operator with focus. Look for small non-chain family owned properties. These are where hospitality will be at its bubbly best.

Other travellers in need of brand consistency and guarantees of quality may find a comfort zone at the top of corporate pyramids where you'll find Grand Hyatt, InterContinental, JW Marriott, Sofitel and Hilton, to name a few. Moving down the pyramid poses risks unless it's just cheap rates you're after.

In the depths lurk franchise operations where standards vary wildly. Franchises are where individual property owners have borrowed a quality name in return for a fee and a promise of maintaining brand standards. This can be hit and miss. While a Novotel or an Ibis under solid ACCOR management, or a Holiday Inn (under InterCon), have certain safeguards and guarantees, other franchise operations like the mammoth Best Western can range from high end full-service hotels to wallet-saver shootouts at the O.K. Corral.

Common sense will suggest that advertised taglines like "biggest" and "largest" should send alarm bells ringing. Take your pick. But dig, dig, dig.

Send us your Feedback / Letter to the Editor

▲ top

Previous Columns






















NOTE: Telephone and fax numbers, e-mails, website addresses, rates and other details may change or get dated. Please check with your dealer/agent/service-provider or directly with the parties concerned. SmartTravel Asia accepts no responsibility for any inadvertent inaccuracies in this article. Links to websites are provided for the viewer's convenience. SmartTravel Asia accepts no responsibility for content on linked websites or any viruses or malicious programs that may reside therein. Linked website content is neither vetted nor endorsed by SmartTravelAsia. Please read our Terms & Conditions.