February 24, 2010
By David Wilkening
Recent news that some resorts have removed the "R" word might make others in the hospitality business wonder: What's the importance of what a hotel is called? A lot or a little?
Several well-known resorts have changed their names after widespread media stories about the American International Group Inc. (AIG) planning a lavish $400,000 sales retreat at California's St. Regis Monarch Beach resort. AIG, which received $170 billion in taxpayer assistance, cancelled the event after a public outcry that eventually led to its own demise, reported The Wall Street Journal.
With politicians railing against companies receiving public aid, some nervous resorts began to reconsider their names. The Ballantyne Resort in Charlotte, NC, for example, changed its name last summer to the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.
"Other than name-dropping, little else has changed," the Journal said. Spas and tee times are still popular at the various resorts that removed their "Rs."
But what implication does that have for other hotels and their own particular names?
There's little question that more attention and expenses have been set aside for names in recent years.
"Companies spend millions of dollar on advertising to get people to remember a name," says Steve Manning, managing director of Igor International, a San Francisco-based naming firm. "Naming is extremely important. It sets the tone."
Manning's company is part of the trend. It takes naming hotels and other places so seriously that it publishes a 123-page "Igor Naming Guide."
Among its clients who apparently never gave much thought to the word "resort" when it came to a name was legendary hotelier Steve Wynn. But then again, this was half a decade before the AIG controversy.
"We spent 10 hours locked (literally) in the penthouse of his Desert Inn - our longest kickoff meeting to date. He was seeking a name for his newest hotel resort casino," says Igor's Web site in its case history section.
Wynn was somewhat reluctant to use his last name, despite his reputation, because Donald Trump did it in Atlantic City and it was feared that could trigger some negatives about the brash billionaire. But that did not deter Igor.
"We were convinced that Mr. Wynn should use his last name for the name of the hotel. It became clear that within the resort casino sector, the two last names ... conjured very different qualities in the hearts and minds of their audiences," says the Web site.
After much deliberation over a two-year period, the agency "got it right," Igor says.
The new name: Wynn Las Vegas.
But an even bigger name perhaps was needed for a $20 billion Dubai development that was the world's tallest tower when it was completed last year. The five-star hotel has upscale shopping and restaurants, man-made lakes and landscaped gardens. The name Igor arrived at was a fairly simple one: "The Address Downtown Dubai," which it says "captures the sense of (its) spectacular location advantage."
Things such as names may have been simpler in the earlier days of hotels. And while no one can say for sure, it's apparent that some establishments were in large part successful because of their association with an economical product.
A spate of hotels in the early 1970s had some form of "budget" in their names, which clearly spelled out their intent to compete with then-mainstream hotels such as Holiday Inn - mainly on cost.
The best-known of these had little subtlety in its rates: Motel 6. The chain's first unit - later famous for its "We'll leave the light on for you" tagline - started in Santa Barbara, CA. The rate in the early years actually was $6, if younger, modern-day hoteliers can believe it. It was definitely "no frills," with a black and white TV instead of free color found at more expensive hotels. It had no such amenities as restaurants.
Another successful chain was "Days Inn," which, when it was founded in 1970 on Tybee Island, GA, had a larger number "8" (which was often the original going nightly rate) in the sunburst area of its marquee signs. Paperback Bibles were free for the taking.
Then, at about the same time, another aptly named chain was started: "EconoLodge." No bones about the name. The initial hotel, still operating at 865 Military Highway in Norfolk, cost $7 for singles and $9 for double rooms. It was profitable within a few months.
Whether they are spending huge amounts of money for a new name or simply winging it - as the budget hotels seem to have done in the early 1970s - it is obvious that hotel names are getting more attention everywhere in the market.
Some hotels are re-naming themselves because of their basic nature, without worrying about the implications of "resort."
The InterContinental Houston Hotel recently changed its name to the InterContinental Houston Near The Galleria.
Says Raymond Vermolen, general manager, "Our new name better reflects our proximity to the world-class shopping and entertainment found in The Galleria. It also helps meeting planners and leisure travelers narrow down their search for appropriate accommodations that meet their location requirements."
Do hotel names have significance? At times, undoubtedly.
"Sometimes, a name says everything about a hotel option. Take Hedonism Resort in Jamaica," for example, says TravelPost. What else do guests need to know?
Famous hotel chains such as The Four Seasons and The Ritz-Carlton obviously attract guests in part because of their long-established reputations for upscale lodging.
But on the other side of the hotel coin, badly named hotels have their share of blogger critics that often have the opposite impact: They are shunned.
Guests might be discouraged from staying at Elephant Butte in New Mexico or the even worse Black Butte Ranch Resort in Oregon (even leisure travelers not deterred by the "resort" reference).
Hotel names can also arouse community upheavals. A few years ago, the historic GulfStream Hotel in Lake Worth, FL, wanted to change their name to The Hotel Frank at the GulfStream.
No reason was given other than backers said it was a move to be "contemporary, cool and chic." Representatives of the South Florida city's Historic Preservation Board did not warm to the idea and it never became a reality, despite the lukewarm approval of a local columnist named Frank who was disappointed to find that he would get no special treatment despite his name.
It's impossible, of course, to measure the exact impact of a hotel's name on its success. And a recent extensive survey of why hotel guests select where they stay did not even mention the subject.
The No. 1 reason that 5,000 Coyle Hospitality Group guests stayed in their particular hotels last year was hotel cleanliness and accommodating staff members. That was the case for both luxury and lower-end hotels.
Cleanliness was mentioned by almost 40 percent of the respondents in all categories of hotels, while "helpful staff" was mentioned in 38 percent of "economy best experiences."
Décor, layout and even basic amenities such as clean towels were mentioned before price, which was the sixth most frequently mentioned attribute.
Whatever the significance of what they're called, it's entirely possible that super-clean places to stay with great service might survive even being called "The Nameless Hotel."