Soft brands are now a stalwart of the hospitality industry, but their rise has only come about in the last ten years. We take a look at some of the most important soft brands that have influenced the this growing trend.
Ascend Collection, Choice Hotels
Choice Hotels was one of the first hotel groups to introduce a soft brand under their umbrella. Launched in 2008, Ascend Hotel Collection was the first group of hotels to be labelled with the “soft brand” moniker, and the hotels chosen to be part of the collection were “upscale independent, unique, boutique or historic properties with strong local brand equity that want to keep their own names and identities while tapping into a broader distribution channel.” This provided something of a blueprint for the development of soft brands, where a group of hotels that were essentially independent but similar in profile were gathered together in a portfolio that allowed them to benefit from the brand’s standards, reputation and marketing.
Launched in 2014, the Curio Collection initially brought together five hotels and casinos in North America, all of which were deemed to be strikingly individual enough in their own right to be able to stand together as a brand that had a collective identity. Only four years later, Curio’s collection now numbers 55, and it was Hilton’s 11th brand when it was launched. The brand’s mission statement says, “Each hotel is hand-picked for its distinct character and personality, appealing to passionate travelers seeking local discovery.”
Starwood launched their soft brand Tribute Portfolio in 2015, a year before Starwood was bought by Marriott. “A family of independent boutique hotels bound by their Indie spirit and heart for connecting people and places,” Tribute currently has 29 operational properties and a further 18 in the pipeline.
Autograph Collection by Marriott
Marriott introduced their upscale soft brand the Autograph Collection in 2009. Their vision was to bring together luxury properties with a distinct identity in some of the world’s most desirable destinations and to grow the brand quickly in its first year. The Autograph Collection was a huge success for Marriott, and now there are 153 properties operating under the soft brand’s umbrella.
In 2016, Hyatt joined the soft brand revolution with The Unbound Collection, a brand that encompasses “historic urban gems, contemporary trend-setters, boutique hotels and resorts”. The selection of properties is reflected in the name, as Unbound was chosen so that Hyatt would not be limited solely to hotels, but could also include eco-lodges, camps and villas in the brand’s portfolio.
Let’s take a look at a few other projects currently underway by soft brands: