In terms of its innovation and influence the UK Independent Hotel sector has rarely been stronger and had such influence. Although it is shrinking, both in terms of its overall size and as a proportion of the country’s serviced accommodation sector, those that have survived – and Independent hotel rooms still comprise more than half of the serviced accommodation rooms in the UK – have thrived because they have truly understood the requirements of the 21st Century traveller and striven to satisfy their requirements. Over 40,000 hotel rooms in independent hotels have closed in a little over a decade. In most cases failure to invest and innovate put them at risk in the face of a more discerning, better informed, consumer, and the marketing strength of hotel brands and online travel agencies (OTAs).
There are numerous examples of best practice and innovation that emanate in Independent hotels permeating through into the chains. In other cases, and perhaps there is no better example than around the country’s seaside resorts, they have participated in the re-ignition of tourism. Where once it was thought that the British seaside was in terminal decline it is now evident that there is a strong market for the new breed of modern boutique and lifestyle hotels. They may not serve the traditional bucket and spade tourist but they are not as seasonal either. Their guests are aspirational and seek authenticity; quality food and drink; spas, gyms and leisure; and quality cultural and leisure attractions. Sunshine, when it comes, is an added benefit! The trend is replicated by Independent hotels in cities, thriving market towns and country houses. The common thread is that they have striven to move with the times and satisfy their customers.
We have highlighted five key differentiating factors for Independent hotels in today’s hotel market: Individuality; Locality; Freedom; Personality; and, Innovation. We dig deeper below the surface to examine the opportunities and threats for Independent hoteliers in a variety of specific topic areas, and have sought contributions from hoteliers to illustrate examples of their passion and success. Their enthusiasm abounds and it is easy to see just how their commitment turns to achievement.
As well as on specific topics we have sought contributions from some prominent hoteliers on the issues and challenges for today’s Independent hotelier. Although optimistic they recognise that change is a constant and cannot be ignored. Where some see threat others perceive opportunity and we have also sought permission to reproduce two blog posts recognising these opportunities.
Almost 200 years ago Charles Caleb Colton, an English cleric and writer, wrote a phrase now widely quoted ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. He probably wasn’t thinking about hotel brands at the time. However Independent hoteliers will recognise that their innovation and best practice often passes into common usage by the hotel brands. They now also have to contend with the brands offering the opportunity to affiliate to their collections to gain access to their reservation and distribution systems without needing to conform to the strictures of a more formal ‘brand’. This will be attractive to some and will further dissipate the Independent sector. It is anathema to others who fiercely defend their independence and strive to build their businesses on foundations of originality, authenticity and service.
There is little doubt that the hotel brands will continue their growth and equally that some Independent hotels might fall by the wayside. Some may choose to rebrand but the majority will remain, either through choice or because they are simply too small, too quirky or too unusually located (or perhaps a combination) to affiliate. The best will provide leadership and innovation for the whole hotel sector and this report highlights key topics, actions and opportunities that are likely to underpin their success.