“Would you expect to get a good experience of local culture by staying in a global brand hotel?”
By global brands, I’m talking about Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Westin, Hyatt, Best Western and the rest.
Earlier in May, I asked the above question on my Facebook page figuring at least three or four of my swell-traveled Facebook buddies would have an opinion (and, boy, do they have opinions!). But much to my surprise, nearly 20 people wrote comments. To see all of them, scroll down on my FB page to May 3. It’s worth pointing out that while there were plenty of “no” answers, the remarks represented the full spectrum of opinions.
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In the “no way” category:
- “As I sit in a Ramada in Tunis, no,” wrote international telecommunications lawyer Kelly Cameron who travels frequently to Africa and the Middle East.
- Obtaining a local-culture experience is “not why I choose global brands in many locations, but it can happen,” said Bruce Ford, a senior executive with hotel industry data tracker Lodging Econometrics.
- “They’ve become such cookie cutters that you really can’t (expect a local experience),” wrote ecruise.net cruise agent Meg Ryan. “When I have been in Marriott brands out of the country, they’re so stuck in their SOPs (standard operating procedures) that nothing seems different. I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel, and said “wow, this LOOKS and FEELS like ____.”
“I would like to say I’ve experienced this but no—I really haven’t,” wrote Rob Newman of Los Angeles, who travels very frequently as a commercial producer. “But I have stayed in some small little boutique hotels and have felt more connected to the local culture. There was one hotel in Bali where the owners took us to a local village ritual for a newborn child that I’ll never forget—something that I’ve never experienced in a chain hotel. In the chain hotels they might list things going on in the community/the country—-but that typically is about it.”
Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group was slightly more forgiving.
“Depends on the hotel brand,” Harteveldt wrote on Facebook. “Some encourage/require more localization in their brand standards. Younger generations are less likely to stay at chain hotels because they want more authenticity in their travel experiences.”
I am happy to report that it was the travel reporter in the bunch who not only said it was possible, but named names! Joe Sharkey, who writes about the travel business for the New York Times, ticked off several good examples from a mix of price levels:
- Doubletree at 51st and Lexington Avenue in New York
- Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, which has “palace status” from the government
- Park Hyatt Tokyo, where Lost in Translation was filmed
- Taj in Mumbai
- Hampton Inn built in a converted monastery at the Zocalo in Mexico City
Sharkey’s mention of Park Hyatt properties made me think of the Park Hyatt in Washington D.C., which has my No. 1 favorite design installation in this city. When you walk in the main hotel door, there are two tall glass installations bedecked with beautiful cherry blossom art. It captures the city during everyone’s favorite – yet short – time of the year, when the cherry blossoms are in glorious full bloom.
A Hyatt brand received another shout-out from frequent traveler John Ruda, who he’d expect this from a hotel brand like Hyatt’s Andaz “but wouldn’t for most brands.”
Kristin Zern, executive director of the Association of Travel Marketing Executives, gave a shout-out to Best Western. And Barcelona writer Tashka Drewnicki said she normally wouldn’t choose a global brand if she wanted an authentic local experience, however, “InterContinental always does really impressive ‘local’ breakfasts.”
Travelswithbaby.com blogger Shelly Rivoli said she’s had the best “authentic” experiences overseas from two-star hotels without a global brand affiliation. (My photo above of a Barcelona hotel is a good example of this.) That’s where “you can usually find great value, owners who are local, and a breakfast made on the spot in the local style (often included),” she wrote.
Miami-based PR pro Lourdes Diaz bucked everyone – including me, with my question – with this insightful comment:
“I don’t believe that where you stay has anything to do with whether your experience is more authentic or not,” Diaz wrote. ”Having a more local experience depends on where you go such as local markets, bars and restaurants and how you get there i.e. public transpiration or walking.”
Readers: Where do you weigh in on this local culture / chain hotel issue?
Photos of Barcelona hotels and eateries by Barb DeLollis.