Lost in translation: why are hotels puzzling guests with name changes?

25 July 2014
Lost in translation: why are hotels puzzling guests with name changes?

Brands are subdividing into niche markets, with hotel name changes de rigueur, but it benefits nobody except them, says Miles Quest

What's in a name? Not a lot now, it appears. Forty years ago I remember the Carlton Tower being renamed the Sonesta Tower after it was bought by the Sonnabend family, who named it after Sonny and Esther Sonnabend, the founders.

At the time, the name change was a huge event for London. Few hotels in the UK had dared take that route, and when the Carlton Tower name was abandoned and the Sonesta Tower was launched, every taxi driver in London was invited to breakfast at the hotel to make sure that at least they knew where the Sonesta was, even if the regulars were puzzled about the new name. If cabbies were invited to every name change today, they would hardly have time to pick up any fares.

The fact that the name subsequently reversed to the Hyatt Carlton Tower and then changed again to the Jumeirah Carlton Tower illustrates only too well that name changes are now more or less de rigueur and that brands are multiplying. And despite the change, many still call it the Carlton Tower.

Similarly, back in 2007, the entire 11-strong Courtyard by Marriott portfolio became Holiday Inn overnight. Accor took over the management of 24 hotels in the original THF Heritage division, which Macdonald had acquired, renaming them - yes - Mercure - a French name for what is a quintessential, English-style hotel.
And Accor, with eight brands in the UK, introduced two more - Ibis Styles and Ibis Budget - which probably left many guests scratching their heads. Even Premier Inn is introducing a new brand - Hub by Premier Inn - meaning Travelodge is the only major single brand hotel company in the UK.

The latest marketing whizz is the renaming of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons as the Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons by the owner, Orient Express. Belmond, apparently means 'beautiful world' (actually, it's bel mondo in Italian) but it sounds mightily American, like bel air, bel vue or bella vista, and hardly adds anything to what is a magnificent collection of properties which cry out for individual treatment.

Are the hotel's rarified guests really going to call it the Belmond Manoir? I doubt it. So what's the point? And it's not now the Orient Express British Pullman - surely a name redolent of travel, excitement, mystery and quality - but the Belmond British Pullman, which is infinitely less evocative.

Brands are multiplying like locusts in the hope that hotel companies can create ever more defined (and thus smaller) niche markets. But do they really benefit the guest? Do customers really understand the difference? Hotel marketeers certainly think so, but I doubt the customer does.

Miles Quest is an author and hospitality journalist

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