The top 20 hotel brands in Great BritainBy James Bland
In January 2015, Cris Tarrant wrote a blog outlining “why hotel brand consolidation won’t be happening any time soon”. Six years, and countless new brands later, do we think any differently? In a word, no.
It seems pretty clear that the purpose of a brand has evolved in that time and will continue to do so, but while drivers of brand proliferation remain strong on both the supply and demand side of the equation, we still can only see the total number of brands going in one direction. Up.
Our Hotel Guest Survey now tracks over 150 brands in Great Britain and uses a number of key indicators to produce the annual Brand Ranking Index. But which brands are the strongest in Great Britain and what do they represent to those who matter most – consumers?
#20 Hampton by Hilton
Increased awareness brings it into the top twenty
Hilton’s economy-tier brand joins the top 20 in 2020 on the back of higher awareness amongst leisure travellers, although the magnitude of the ranking increase somewhat masks the fact that unprompted recall is concentrated in larger brands and the overall level of unprompted awareness remains low. Hampton no doubt benefits from its “by Hilton” handle when it comes to prompted awareness though, and its likely that also helps keep it in the higher echelons of Brand Margin® in the tier. Hampton by Hilton enjoys a fairly differentiated position in the economy tier (again, perhaps as a result of “by Hilton”) and is perceived by both business and travellers as stylish and appealing. Perceptions of quality and consistency are also probably inherited from its illustrious parent.
#19 Jurys Inn
Down four places on last year
Very few brands have managed to grow awareness in this year’s survey, likely an indicator of segments being ‘in transition’ as a result of lockdown. Jurys Inn, though, saw above-average declines in business awareness and preference and it’s these that have caused the decline in ranking. Brand Margin® actually increased year on year, but by slightly less than the tier average causing a very slight widening of that gap. Much as one might make a case for Hampton by Hilton to be assessed against midscale brands rather than economy, the reverse argument could potentially be made for Jurys Inn, with its strongest associations (appropriately located hotels, mainstream and good value) placing it firmly in the ‘commodity’ box when it is considered alongside a midscale competitive set.
#=17 The Ritz-Carlton
Enters the top twenty
Although not the highest-ranked luxury brand overall, The Ritz-Carlton is one the best known in Great Britain and perhaps has the most clearly-defined brand position in the tier and the strongest association with attributes such as iconic, opulent luxury and provides a feeling of high status (nearly two-thirds of respondents agreeing). Whether it benefits from the reputation of London’s famous Ritz hotel or not is another matter, though. The Ritz-Carlton consistently appears near the top of the luxury tier Brand Margin® rankings, and although it loses ground on the leader this year, it has still increased its gap from the average. Along with Waldorf Astoria, Raffles and Mandarin Oriental, The Ritz-Carlton occupies the super-luxury space in British consumers’ mind-sets.
Maintains its place in the top twenty
Relatively little change for Mercure in this year’s rankings and with relatively consistent associations and few differentiators it remains fairly middle-of-the-road in the mid-market tier. Continuing the theme, its Brand Margin® is practically aligned with the tier average, too. With no key, stand-out strengths or weaknesses it is relatively undifferentiated in this country, kept company by the little-known Golden Tulip and Ramada, another brand that struggles to be understood fully outside its home market.
Makes gains in preference, especially in the leisure segment
InterContinental’s brand rank is underpinned by exceptionally strong customer metrics – which we measure with two data points: Net Promoter Score (among recent users) and Loyalty Ratio. For the latter of these InterContinental places in the top ten but for the former it tops the table.
When assessed in the luxury tier, its brand strengths have a decidedly un-luxury feel. Attributes such as iconic or provides a feeling of high status are negatively associated with InterContinental, while conversely it performs well on good value and appropriately located hotels. Hand in glove with that strong association with good value is a weaker-than-average Brand Margin® which, despite increasing slowly over the years, loses ground on both the leading brand and the luxury average.
#15 Four Seasons
Highest-ranked luxury brand this year
Despite being the top-ranked luxury brand in the market as a result, mainly, of strong levels of recall, Four Seasons’ positioning is relatively undifferentiated and, in the minds of consumers, it struggles to really stand out for much (either positively or negatively). In perception terms, it occupies fairly crowded space in the heart of the luxury tier alongside brands like Fairmont and Grand Hyatt. Its strongest associations are with being iconic, but the business and leisure markets respectively also see it as having staff that anticipate every need and offering bedrooms that are suitable to relax in. Its Brand Margin® history is one of stable but unspectacular growth, consistently adding £1 each year since measurement began. This year, though, that sees it lose ground on both the top-ranked brand in the tier and the tier average.
#14 Holiday Inn Express
Loses ground in preference
Holiday Inn Express is seen by both business and leisure travellers as a mainstream brand with appropriately located hotels but, aside from that, it is not considered to have many other particular strengths and it sits firmly in the ‘chasing pack’ as far as the economy tier is concerned – a cluster of brands striving to get closer to the two undisputed leaders in this market. It visibly benefits from the awareness of its parent, with a clear disparity between its total and unaided awareness ranks and they share many of the same perceptions, albeit in different tiers of the market. In truth, consumers find it difficult to differentiate between the two, which is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the parent lending its name so completely. Pleasing for IHG will be recognition – in the leisure market at least – of the quality of breakfast the brand offers.
Up a place from last year
Like Holiday Inn Express, ibis sits in the group of brands striving to catch up with Premier Inn and Travelodge and, in many respects, this group is all fairly similarly perceived by both business and leisure travellers – they are simple, mainstream, appropriately located hotels that offer good value. In the words of a leading brand of wood stain – they do exactly what they say on the tin. The lack of differentiation for core ibis is really not a problem though because Accor has been very successful in differentiating the two other variants of ibis – budget and Styles. Although neither has anything like the awareness of the parent, they are perceived quite differently by travellers, and in the way that the strategy intended (ibis budget is strong on value and simplicity, ibis Styles on stylish and trendy). With top-ten rankings for awareness and preference across both leisure and business travellers, the reason ibis’s overall rank is not higher is relatively poor customer experience. Net Promoter Score (assessed only among recent users) and Loyalty Ratio (the proportion of users who consider it their leading choice) rank 83rd and 37th respectively, suggesting challenges with the guest experience.
No change from last year
The problem with Sheraton is that its strengths are not strong enough to make up for its relative weaknesses, with measures like good value, modern and is a brand that I love appearing particularly weak. Overall, the data paints a picture of a brand that is somewhat misunderstood by both business and leisure travellers: they know it has heritage and they consider it reasonably high-status (particularly in the leisure market) but beyond that they’re mostly not too sure. It seems to make intuitive sense, therefore, that it sits alongside brands like Pullman (yet to establish itself over here), De Vere (which has basically spent the last decade changing hands and changing itself) and Le Meridien (also poorly understood).
What these brands also have in common, though, is that their customer metrics outperform their market metrics. In short, people who do know the brands actually quite like them. This is most dramatic for Sheraton, whose Net Promoter Score is actually the fifth highest in the country.
#11 Best Western
Decline in business preference sees it drop out of the top ten
Best Western’s overall ranking is not helped by its customer metrics (Net Promoter Score and Loyalty Ratio) which rank 68th and 32nd respectively. It has fractionally more detractors than promoters, suggesting it is a brand that very much divides opinion and it’s probably not surprising that a brand which strives for and celebrates inconsistency in its product is not one that, on average, adds a lot of value to the underlying product. In fact, of the midscale brands, only Britannia records a lower Brand Margin® in Great Britain. That ‘marmite’ feeling is illustrated by the Inside Best Western documentary about which we wrote last year. People who watched that were likely to have any existing perceptions of the brand reinforced: those who loved it for being mainstream, traditional and good value will have seen plenty to reinforce that love. Those who hated it for the very same reasons will probably have also found plenty of evidence to support their view, too. Best Western, to its credit, knows exactly what it is or is not. Its challenge is to explain that “we-are-branded-but-we-are-not-a-brand” approach and convince people of the benefits.
Hard to separate from its children
The Radisson brand, in this country, is an interesting case study since all of the properties are assigned to the child, rather than the parent. As a result, it muddies the waters somewhat and makes it very likely that consumers confuse the brands, assigning their awareness to one rather than to the other.
Radisson itself is not a hugely differentiated brand – consumers perceive it to be fairly similar to brands such as Hyatt, Le Meridien, Moevenpick, Pullman and Renaissance. What links all of those brands is that there are not very well known in this market that they have entered from another, yet Radisson – in the top ten for awareness – sits alongside them with very few stand-out strengths or weaknesses.
Welcome to the top ten
Unlike its Accor midscale stablemate Mercure, Novotel has a fairly clear position in the minds of UK consumers, who quite strongly see it as simple, practical and mainstream. However, despite a similar Brand Margin®, its association with good value is not as strong as similarly-perceived brands Holiday Inn and Best Western. Its association with being modern is much stronger than both of those, though, so it is possible that consumers may consider its intrinsic product to be superior to the others. Allied with that is a much weaker – negative, in fact – association with traditional, although that is perhaps not surprising for a French brand in an Anglophone market.
Novotel shares a notable negative perception of provides a feeling of high status and offers personalised service with those large midscale brands, pointing to a product class that is very much seen as commoditised and, as a result, potentially interchangeable.
#8 Radisson Blu
Down a place on last year
Radisson Blu, as a ‘separate’ brand records lower awareness than its parent, but as the main Radisson presence in this country, likely “loses” mentions to the parents as a result of confusion, rather than clarity, between the two. It is probably not fully understood in Britain, as it – like its parent - has relatively few clear strengths or weaknesses but does have some strength around its positioning for in-room technology and Wi-Fi amongst business travellers.
What it does have, though, is strong customer metrics. For Net Promoter Score it ranks 14th and for Loyalty Ratio 10th. It is these that make up for relatively low awareness amongst the top ten and, by way of comparison, Radisson (no Blu or Red) ranks in the thirties for both. Those who have experienced the brand do, at least, seem to understand it much more strongly.
#7 Crowne Plaza
Improvement driven by the business market
Improved business metrics drive Crowne Plaza’s ascent this year, which might be as much curse as blessing as we enter a year likely to be dominated by leisure travel. Crowne Plaza’s business-market perceptions are certainly much stronger than those in the leisure market, in which it fails to stand out for anything in particular. Its Brand Margin® is lower mid-table in the upper full service standings, but it is keeping pace with the average in narrowly trails and does show steady year-on-year progression even after historic data are adjusted for inflation (as they are each year).
Crowne Plaza’s relative lack of differentiation may be its biggest challenge – it seems to bridge a bit of a gap between Hilton and Marriott and other, less well-known, upscale brands like Renaissance and Swissôtel and although it currently ranks 10th/11th for ‘leading choice’ in the business and leisure segments respectively, the distribution of brand preference is such that there is very little to choose between quite a big cluster of brands.
#6 DoubleTree by Hilton
Has its meteoric rise reached its limit?
Meteoric is the word, because from a standing start in this country in 2008 (albeit backed by 30 years of US heritage), DoubleTree by Hilton is now Hilton’s biggest brand in the UK in terms of number of properties. Of course, as a conversion brand, some of that has been achieved by a decline in the number of ‘core’ Hiltons, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
DoubleTree by Hilton ascended to sixth place last year and consolidates that in 2020. As recently as 2017 it ranked #14 and just four years prior to that it was outside the top 25. Awareness has doubled in the last seven years, but has cooled off in the last two and remains half the level of its parent. However, it does occupy a distinctly different position from Hilton Hotels & Resorts, giving Hilton an alternative to offer to upscale developers looking for something a little bit lower down the price premium spectrum.
#5 Holiday Inn
Drops a place from last year
A year of little relative change for Holiday Inn, but that’s still enough to see it drop one place in the overall Brand Ranking Index to fifth. That this comes despite being the third and fourth best-known brand in the business and leisure segments is driven by relative underperformance in our own-customer metrics: the brand ranking 49th for Net Promoter Score and 18th for Loyalty Ratio – measures both lower in absolute terms than they were in 2015, when Holiday Inn last dropped out of the top three.
The never-ending challenge for IHG is that while Holiday Inn perhaps “pulls up” Holiday Inn Express, it’s perhaps also true that Holiday Inn Express “pulls down” Holiday Inn as the two brands merge into each other. Holiday Inn’s strengths in the midscale tier are clear strengths and it has a very distinct position – the problem is that position is perhaps more akin to that of an economy brand than a midscale one. Accusations you could also level at the brands with which it shares the most similarities in the eyes of consumers: Quality, Jury’s Inn, Novotel and Best Western.
Reclaims 4th spot from Holiday Inn
Travelodge and Holiday Inn have spent the last five years swapping 4th and 5th with each other, and after two years with the lower rank, it’s again Travelodge’s turn to be in the ascendancy. Quite distinct from Premier Inn (more about which later) it dominates those attributes that come out as strength, placing it firmly as the nation’s go-to brand when simplicity, location and value – but little else – are needed. Notable this year is an increase in rank from 3 to 2 in terms of leading choice amongst leisure travellers – highly likely to be a function of the commoditisation of hotel service offering this year. (Why pay more for a more upscale hotel if it cannot offer its full range of services). Travelodge is never likely to be known for being stylish or offering excellent F&B (nor should it strive to be) so it’s no surprise to see these as weaknesses in its perception data.
By the same token, a low Brand Margin® index and a value notably below the average is actually a pretty good outcome for a brand that actively wants to be seen as a cheaper alternative to some of its competitors. With 2021 likely to be the year of the staycation – perhaps even more than 2020 was – Travelodge may be fairly well positioned to have a much better year which will be important if it is to repay the faith of the large number of landlords who resisted the lure of AGO Hotels and ibis budget last year.
No change from 2019
It’s “as you were” for Marriott, with no change in its overall rank or its main individual metric ranks. Despite its size, heritage and distribution, it is perhaps fair to say that Marriott is also a brand still not fully understood in this market, although its strong positioning for meetings and events does come through. It shares many perception traits with Hilton, but for the most part those perceptions – whether positively or negatively – are weaker. Although occupying a space that is not dissimilar to Hilton and Crowne Plaza, it is actually more closely clustered with Canopy by Hilton, Curio by Hilton and Aloft – brands much less well known in this market. With distribution of the brand most likely at saturation point, and metrics stubbornly close to the same level they were seven years ago, it is likely that Marriott International’s growth prospects in the upper full service tier lie more with Sheraton and Le Meridien than with the core Marriott brand. In light of that, an apparent pivot in strategy towards leading with their loyalty programme, Marriott Bonvoy, seems to make a lot of sense.
#2 Premier Inn
No change from 2019
A year of very little change for Premier Inn, which maintains second place overall as well as being the nation’s favourite brand for leisure stays. In positioning terms, it remains a brand which perfectly communicates its desired position: no doubt as you read the words offers a great night’s sleep, appropriately located hotels, is a brand I love, superior quality of bedding and pillows and recently refurbished bedrooms you can practically hear Lenny Henry reading them out. Such is the strength of its position, it practically owns that ‘space’ in the minds of consumers, with clear water between it and its nearest competitors on the perceptual map. For the record, those nearest competitors are Holiday Inn Express and Days Inn by Wyndham, but to describe them as similarly positioned would be an exaggeration.
And despite all this, and despite being by some distance the most-used brand for leisure stays, and despite being (by a lesser distance) the brand most-used for business stays, it still cannot claim top spot. With market conditions likely to favour domestic leisure travel over the next few months, maybe 2021 will be the year it finally happens?
Retains the top spot
It should come as no surprise to see, for the 314th consecutive year, Hilton atop the HGS Brand Ranking Index. It is the best known brand in the market and is very well understood by both business and leisure travellers, with a number of strengths that make it very popular. Despite its ubiquity, it maintains an above-average Brand Margin® that grows steadily, and its strength is such that it can lend its name to lower-tier family brands without having its standing diluted.
There are a couple of chinks in the armour, though. It yielded first place for leisure preference to Premier Inn some years ago but, this year, yields second place to Travelodge. It also has some stand-out relative weaknesses and some of them potentially quite worrying: bedrooms suitable to relax in, friendly staff, welcoming and trustworthy being perhaps the most concerning. With market conditions favouring leisure travel and with COVID restrictions limiting the ability of upper full service hotels to offer ancillary services, this brand – always so strongly associated with international business travel and meetings – is particularly exposed right now, and needs to pivot quickly and effectively (but hopefully temporarily) to the domestic leisure market.
Brands to watch
Warner Leisure Hotels
With domestic leisure travel, most probably amongst older, vaccinated groups likely to be the dominant force in at least the first half of 2021, you could probably expect next year to be even better for Warner Leisure Hotels than 2020 was. It is worth noting that the further down the overall rankings you go, the more significant the shifts can be as the numbers involved are much, much smaller and more similar. (It’s probably much harder to go from 35 to 30 than it is from 60 to 35).
Also of interest is that this brand does not have a strong negative association with family friendly as an attribute, reminding us that “family” is not always synonymous with “children”.
The small matter of multi-million pound investment from Blackstone is not exactly going to harm their prospects either. Absolutely “one to watch”.
Hub by Premier Inn
With market conditions likely to favour domestic leisure travel, another bite at the cherry for Whitbread with its Hub by Premier Inn brand is likely to stand it in good stead for the year ahead. Awareness of this brand remains limited, but the profile of its parent – given they share a booking platform – means that probably isn’t going to be a problem.
Hard Rock Hotel
So strong is this brand’s association with trendy it is probably fair to say it has shifted the landscape entirely – evidenced by the fact it sits in completely unique space on the brand landscape. The flip side of a strong position like this is that it will inevitably split the crowd, but the Hard Rock brand knows what it is, knows what it needs to target and with only one property in this country, does not need mass-market appeal to fill its rooms or, indeed, to continue to command the highest Brand Margin® in the upper full service tier.
Hotel Indigo is another of those brands that probably straddles two of the tiers we define in this survey. Against an upper full service comparison set, it performs very strongly for attributes that normally suggest a lower tier (good value is a particular giveaway) but it still manages to occupy a very distinct space, and the attributes it would hope to communicate – trendy, appealing design, locally connected – do seem to resonate. We think this is a brand with a lot of potential – perhaps even as a conversion for properties whose facilities are perhaps not done justice by their current brand – and one that provides IHG with something that is genuinely different from a lot of what is out there.