NEW YORK – Hotel owners are increasingly skipping chains and trying to run profitable hotels as independent properties, according to Destination Hotels & Resorts President and COO Jamie Sabatier.

It’s an interesting trend that I’ll be exploring while at the NYU hospitality investment conference today and tomorrow.

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Sabatier’s proof? Three of the five new hotels that Destination added last year had dropped their brand affiliation.

The hotels were a Marriott in Oak Brook, Ill., the Eden Roc Renaissance in Miami Beach and the Westin La Cantera in San Antonio, Texas, he said.

Destination experienced its best growth ever last year in terms ore revenues and new hotels joining, said Sabatier, a former Starwood executive who took Destination’s top job two years ago.

“The whole world is really gravitating around our model,” he said, noting that most of Destination’s 41 hotels are independent properties such as Vail Cascade in Colorado.

What’s prompting branded hotels to try to go it alone?

First, consumers tastes are evolving toward independent lodging that gives them an authentic experience of the local culture, he said.

“Consumers are really interested in having more unique experiences. When they go to San Diego, for instance they want to feel like they’re in San Diego, as opposed to simply being a tourist in San Diego,” he said. “So consumers like really like the positioning of our independent hotels.”

Owners see a way to save on brand fees, while at the same time maintaining their sales, Sabatier said.

“They realize they can do this economically, while preserving revenue – ultimately giving them a net gain,” he said.

Sabatier said some owners also like the ability to operate more nimbly, without an inches-thick brand standards book, and they like the individual attention they receive. “In some cases,” he said, owners believe the brands are interested in growing the brand and they’re not as focused on their property.

Readers: Do you tend to seek out chains or independent properties more often?