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When we said, “Don’t expect hotel companies to stop launching new soft brands anytime soon,” we weren’t kidding.
Today, Best Western Hotels & Resorts is joining its hotel peers and launching its third hotel soft brand collection.
The BW Signature Collection by Best Western marks the company’s 11th brand, and is geared toward the upper midscale market. The company’s other two soft brands focus on upper economy and midscale (SureStay Collections by Best Western) and upscale/upper upscale (BW Premier Collection).
Unlike a “hard” hotel brand, a soft brand collection like BW Signature Collection by Best Western is meant to appeal to independent hotel owners who don’t want to be beholden to the same strict standards as a a specific brand such as Best Western, Courtyard by Marriott, or Embassy Suites, but want to benefit from a big hotel company’s distribution network.
The first soft brand hotel collections that emerged tended to focus more on the luxury and upper upscale hotel categories — think Choice Hotels’ Ascend Collection, Starwood’s (now Marriott’s) The Luxury Collection, Marriott’s Autograph Collection, and Hilton’s Curio Collection.
Today, however, hotel companies are increasingly looking to the midscale space to launch new soft brands. We saw that with Hilton’s newest soft brand, Tapestry Collection, and from Wyndham’s first soft brand collection, Trademark Hotel Collection. Just last month, Red Roof Inn entered the soft brand market with The Red Collection, which targets the “upscale economy to midscale space.”
In a statement, Best Western president and CEO David Kong said, “No one is offering a soft brand in the upper midscale segment right now, so by diversifying our offerings in the space, it is clearly an opportunity for us to capture market share and achieve scale.”
Whether Best Western is the only hotel company that has a soft brand in the upper midscale segment is highly debatable, but it’s clear that more hotel companies are capitalizing on the benefits of launching soft brands: building up scale and bringing more independent hoteliers into their networks.
These hotel companies are also aspiring to having multiple soft brands that cover a true range of hotel chain scales, from economy to luxury. A prime example of this strategy includes Hilton, which says it hopes to launch a more luxury-focused soft brand by next year.
Best Western said it has already signed two hotels to its newest soft brand: Killington Mountain Lodge in Killington, Vermont, and Brooklyn Way Hotel in Brooklyn, New York. A quick look at Best Western’s website, however, lists Brooklyn Way Hotel as a member of the company’s higher-tier BW Premier Collection soft brand, suggesting the hotel is shifting its profile from upscale to upper midscale.
For independent hoteliers, soft brand collections are primarily advantageous because they give access to the bigger brand’s distribution channels, revenue management systems, sales support, marketing programs, loyalty programs, and global reservation system — all without necessarily having to commit to strict brand standards.
The fact that all 4,100 hotels worldwide that currently carry Best Western’s brands, whether soft brand or not, are independently owned and operated suggests that Best Western is a company that knows how to work well with independent owners. And the fact that the company also has more than 30 million loyalty program members is another advantage for hoteliers who want to capitalize on loyalty relationships to drive bookings.
Whether this new soft brand for Best Western will be attractive to independent hoteliers and will ultimately help them attract more guests and repeat business remains to be seen, however. The only surety at this point is that we can expect even more of these types of hotel collection brands going forward.