The New Face of Noplace, USA
The New Face of Noplace, USA


by Jim Hightower

Big hotel chains are opening fake boutique lines to snare travelers who prefer independently run lodging.

As everyone who travels a lot soon learns, it’s easy to forget where you are. Those big chains uniformly offer all the charm of Noplace, USA.

This disorienting sameness has become more dizzying in recent years as the chains have merged and conglomerated.

Weary travelers might choose to stay overnight in one of the Residence Inn hotels, or a Courtyard, the TownePlace Suites, or even splurge for a night in a Ritz-Carlton. In fact, though, you’re in a Marriott -- the $14-billion-a-year amalgamation that owns all of the above hotel chains, along with 15 others.

Marriott is among the world’s 10 largest hotel operators. Combined, these companies run 113 different chains.

Naturally, as uniformity and conglomeration have taken over the industry, a consumer rebellion has erupted. More and more travelers -- especially younger ones -- are seeking out independent hotels, unique inns, and local B&Bs. They prefer the un-corporate places that have cool names like the Moxy, Canopy, and Vīb.

But, oh crud, guess what? All three of those are just offshoots of corporate hotel chains that opened in the past year. These intentionally hip brands belong, respectively, to Marriott, Hilton, and Best Western.

Known in the industry as “lifestyle hotels,” these fake independent lodgings are the hot new niche for mega-conglomerates trying to nab travelers in search of authenticity. “The big hotel chains are in the business of pretending they aren't big chains,” says Pauline Frommer, editor of the well-regarded Frommer’s travel guides. “They want you to think they are boutiques.”

It sounds sneaky. But do they think that duping customers is a good strategy? Once travelers realize we’re being deceived, we’ll get angry. And that’s bad for business.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.


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