Hospitality industry and the “element” behind branding green

A few years ago I was at the National Tour Association’s “Spring Meet” in Uncasville, Connecticut. Tour operators, suppliers, and destination management companies converged to discuss a number of industry issues. Hot then – and still hot now – is how to turn brands “green” (toward environmental sustainability), capture customer appreciation toward this, and reduce costs. That last bit was challenging in 2006; I remember one hotel sales executive saying that using bio-friendly washing detergent for linens was extremely cost prohibitive. I wonder where things have gone since then?

The trend to become green was and is not going to stop. In 2008, Starwood Hotels launched the “Element Hotels by Westin” brand in Lexington, Massachusetts. Element is the first major hotel brand to mandate all properties adhere to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The hotels feature expansive natural lighting to reduce energy costs, public spaces and flooring developed from recycled content, smart in-room recycling techniques, water and waste reduction technologies, and even… get this…. the old paper “do not disturb” cards have been replaced with magnets! Smart and functional, Element is definitely part of the eco-chic revolution in hospitality.

The travel industry as a whole has lot of responsibilities: We have to protect and ensure safety of the consumer and ourselves, we have to provide value to the consumer; and we must move toward environmental responsibility in the products and services we provide. Consumers of all kinds are now choosing to patronize brands that reduce the impact on the world’s natural resources. So if you ignore your impact on Mother Earth, you might just lose a sale!

Will you come up with a new way that the travel industry can improve sustainability?

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Delta Air Lines and the STAPLES Center – brand synergy!

Yesterday a press release was issued about how Delta Air Lines has entered an agreement with AEG to become the official airline of the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, official airline of the L.A. Kings, official partner of The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live, and will have rights to marketing in the L.A. Live complex. Whew! That is quite a mouthful of information for a one press release! What I find most interesting, though, is the impact of branding a brand like Delta Air Lines and STAPLES.

In the travel industry, perhaps it began with airlines promoting brand name coffee served on their flights? I’m not sure. But soon after we saw cruise ships starting to feature popular branded F&B outlets onboard like Johnny Rockets and Starbucks. Starwood Hotels has even created brands inside brands (see “Aloft – a vision of W Hotels”). I suppose that part of keeping brands fresh involves mixing other brands in to the advantage of both. Certainly but not limited to the travel industry, products need to be kept fresh and exposed to find and maintain relationships with new consumers.

Take this hypothetical example: John Doe just moved to Los Angeles from Atlanta to begin his career as a professor. In his new position he will travel to Asia often for research. He is an avid hockey fan and one evening goes to an L.A. Kings game to see his new home team play. At the STAPLES Center he notices Delta’s presence. In fact, he notices Delta’s presence all over Los Angeles and how they just began service to Tokyo’s convenient Haneda airport…. Back to the Kings game: Just after the 1st period, his assistant calls to report his laptop crashed. He glances up for a split second, and responds “Go to Staples and get a new one”.

The synergy of branding a brand or having multiple brands working side-by-side is – if nothing else – great exposure!

Press release with complete details can be found here:

Starwood to Hilton: Pay up!

Still a hot hospitality industry brand discussion is the recently settled lawsuit between Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and Hilton Worldwide. The suit centered around 100,000 pages of confidential information that Hilton illegally obtained about Starwood’s “W”Hotels brand development. Starwood launched the W Hotels brand in 1999 and has grown it to over 30 hotels in the “lifestyle” brand category since.

What is the “lifestyle” brand category? Most refer to this as the segment of properties that appeal to a certain demographic. For example, the W Hotels brand was designed to attract the young and affluent who enjoy surrounding themselves with sleek, sexy furnishings and upscale atmospheres. A lucrative market, W Hotels continues to make a splash when entering a new city.

This classic corporate espionage scenario allegedly involved senior executives who left Starwood and, well, perhaps they forgot about any employment contracts they may have signed regarding brand security, non-compete agreements, et al? Brand security is key to maintaining market share and large corporations usually employ contractual tools to keep secrets where they belong.

Key to the topic is the settlement freeze put on Hilton’s “Denizen” brand as part of the settled lawsuit; it was allegedly drawn from Starwood’s W Hotels successful blueprint. Along with $150 million in compensation for damages, Hilton is not allowed to create any “lifestyle” hotels for the next two years. Maybe during the next two years Hilton will spend some time identifying an emerging lifestyle category and create a new brand for that market?

This lawsuit has me considering the impact of brand security and what new lifestyle markets in the lodging industry have yet to be discovered!