Media brands are aligning themselves with hotel properties around the world that serve as a touchpoint of their brand, expanding the realm of branded experiences in travel. But what is the opportunity that exists within the hotel industry, and how are these opportunities mutually beneficial for both parties involved? Where does the future of media brand and hotel company partnership lie?
For fans of Discovery Network, travel just got a whole lot more exciting.
Discovery Consumer Products, a division of Discovery Communications, recently announced a partnership with Scottford Hospitality to launch Discovery Destinations, an adventure travel resorts program representative of Discovery’s mission to explore and embrace the world.
The six partner resorts within Discovery Destinations’ portfolio include Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina; Shaker Village in Kentucky; House on Metolous in Oregon; Goldmoor Inn in Illinois; Andaman Resort in Moganshan, China; and Terra Paradise in Costa Rica.
All of the hotels chosen offer experiences that speak to Discovery’s theme of igniting curiosity through the various activities offered— both onsite and offsite— that share the brand’s adventure-ridden DNA: nature walks, zip lining, deep sea diving, and eco-tours — just to name a few.
In addition, the properties are independently owned, 4-to 5 star-rated accommodation with fewer than 150 rooms each.
The relationship with Scottford Hospitality to create Discovery Destinations is reflective of what is becoming an emerging trend in the travel industry: branded experiences.
There have been plenty of media brands to opportunize on curating unique travel experiences through partnerships with members from the travel industry. Consider Travel + Leisure’s “T+L Journeys,” born from a partnership with travel agency Black Tomato, or The New York Times launch of NYT Journeys, which works with tour operators including Abercrombie & Kent and Judy Perl Worldwide Travel, among others.
Yet media brands that feature their own hotel collections remains a more novel concept, with few making their mark in the hotel business thus far.
Stephanie Creary, an assistant professor of strategy at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, says that these innovative partnerships are pushing new waves of excitement through the industry, especially for consumers.
“What makes this set of relationships particularly interesting and exciting especially from a consumer perspective is that for many years consumers have only been able to experience what the Discovery brand has to offer somewhat vicariously from their living rooms,” Creary says. “Now, with Discovery Destinations, consumers can theoretically experience the Discovery brand first hand at properties that are uniquely positioned to deliver the types of adventurous experiences that Discovery’s customers value and demand.”
Creary also draws attention to consumer loyalty and trust in a brand, which can prove to be advantageous for smaller, independent properties and hoteliers seeking ways to improve their occupancy.
“Attaching a media brand to a hotel and, more specifically, to the service experience that a hotel provides is a strategy that provides the media company another avenue for reaching customers—current and potential ones. Essentially, a partnership between a media company and a hotel can increase both partners’ visibility, which can promote access to a wider customer base and even encourage loyalty among current customers,” she adds.
Christine Wacker, director, Discovery Location-based experiences, agrees that the hotel brands and media brands have developed a mutually symbiotic relationship through such ventures.
“Through their various audience touch points, Discovery is able to introduce viewers to a collection of unique resorts and hotels located around the world that embody the Discovery spirit. As a result the consumer is able to easily find experiences worldwide that they otherwise may never discover and that best suit their interests. The consumer is also provided a consistent level of comfort visiting destinations vetted by a brand they trust,” Wacker says.
In 2014, AFAR unveiled The AFAR Collection, an invite-only group of hotels and resorts that, according to AFAR’s website, are selected for their exceptional hospitality, unique amenities, and ability to connect guests more deeply with a destination.
In January of this year, The National Geographic Society created National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a globally-curated list of boutique hotels currently comprising 41 properties, up from the 24 included in its launch. The goal to have a network of 50 hotels by the end of the year is an achievable one, says Lynn Cutter, executive vice president of travel and licensing for National Geographic, who adds that the first nine months have so far been exciting, rewarding and successful.
“There is definitely more competition, but properties need to think holistically about what kind of programs brands are bringing them,” Cutter says, speaking to the arsenal of advantages to working with a reputable global brand like National Geographic, like its dedication to sustainable travel and its varying mediums for distribution.
The first property that the National Geographic Society contacted was Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, which operates Lapa Rios Eco Lodge in Costa Rica.
Hans Pfister, who owns the lodge and the hospitality company, says that the partnership has thus far been an incredibly beneficial one that allows both hotels and the brands do what they do best.
“There are thousands stories to tell at hotels. But telling those stories is not what hoteliers do. The media does and is hungry for new stories. So if there is a good partnership that ‘fits,’ it is an incredible opportunity for both sides,” Pfister says.
But aligning with the right company is key, as the media company and the hotel property should share a common audience.
“The demographics should fit. Lapa Rios and Nat Geo share the same target market of nature, wildlife and adventure travelers,” Pfister says. “We would not do so well with an alliance with a magazine like Vogue or Elle.”
For small hotels, the right deal can reap serious rewards, Pfister says.
“It helps small, remote and independent hotels form an alliance that is not a traditional brand that is often used on standardization, or the same experience in every hotel of the brand,” he says. “In the case of the Unique Lodges, it is about very unique and different experiences in different places but under the umbrella of a ‘brand light.'”
Where the future lies for such business and what it means for the hotel industry at large is uncertain, though Professor Creary predicts there will be more relationships developing in the future. Yet she also ponders the possibility of media brands purchasing and operating their own hotels instead of acting as partners, allowing for greater control over the brand, the customer experience and greater profit margins.
Pfister expresses doubt at such an idea.
“[There are] very different expertise sets, and I think that media brands can make alliances, but probably don’t want to get married to just one hotel brand,” he says. “They need to keep an open mind and report and tell stories about many different lodging operations and experiences.”
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Photo credit: Shaker Village in Kentucky is among one of six properties to be part of Discovery Destinations' hotel collection. Shaker Village / Shaker Village