From Mainstream to Niche: How Chain Hotels Have Diversified Their Offerings

by joeheg

A few years ago, I had a desire to stop booking stays with major hotel brands. I felt my hotel choices were limiting us to a few major brands, and I yearned for the days when we would stay at independent hotels or even bed & breakfasts on our travels. However, as I tried to focus less on large brands and more on independent hotels, I found it increasingly difficult because the large hotel chains were incorporating independent brands into their portfolios.

It’s now possible to stay at unique hotels while remaining loyal to a major hotel chain. Popular hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, Accor, Choice, Wyndham, Sonesta, and Best Western each have their own divisions focusing on hotels that don’t easily fit their respective brand’s limitations. We believe these hotels are the most interesting places to stay in a brand’s portfolio.

Marriott Bonvoy

While a stay at a Marriott Bonvoy property used to primarily consist of a Marriott convention hotel, Residence Inn or Courtyard by Marriott, you’re now able to stay at a Luxury Collection or Autograph Collection property.

We love the Luxury Collection, which includes the Goldener Hirsch in Salzburg, Austria.

a building with a window and bars

If old hotels aren’t your style, you can consider staying at the EnVue. It’s a part of the Autograph Collection and has great views of Manhattan across the Hudson River.

a city skyline with a body of water

IHG Hotels

When we visited Key West, FL, I had to decide if I wanted to stay at an independent hotel or a chain property. That’s not the case anymore, now that Kimpton has a collection of small hotel properties spread across the island. We used points to stay at the Kimpton Key West Ridley House.

a white house with a tree in front

While many of the interesting hotels in the IHG portfolio are under the Kimpton flag, other hotels have their own history. One such property is the Intercontinental Magnificent Mile in Chicago. We stayed here several years ago and were fascinated by the hotel pool on the 14th floor, an engineering marvel built in 1929.

a swimming pool inside a building

Hilton Hotels

While there are still plenty of Hilton Garden Inn and Hampton Inn hotels, an increasing number of hotels under the Hilton umbrella don’t easily fit into a particular brand. That’s why Hilton now has the Curio Collection, which includes the Casa Marina in Key West, which is currently undergoing a multi-month renovation.

a pool with palm trees and a building

Several Hilton Hotels have also been part of the company for decades, like the Palmer House in Chicago.

a large room with many people and chandeliers with The Palmer House Hilton in the background

Accor Hotels

While not a well-known name in the US, Accor has hotel properties located around the world. Many of their hotels are iconic buildings with loads of history.

For example, we stayed at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi which has hosted many famous and infamous guests over its long history. We also got a chance to visit the bomb shelter built during the Vietnam War.

a white building with columns and flags

Have I Given Up On Independent Hotels?

I’ve come to realize that sticking with the big hotel chains doesn’t mean missing out on unique and charming accommodations. However, I’m not one to shy away from independent hotels either. Sometimes, the only option to explore a new place is by staying at a non-chain hotel. For me, the destination holds more importance than the hotel itself.

Some amazing hotels aren’t a part of any hotel chain. That doesn’t mean I’m going to avoid staying there. If we did, I would have never gotten a chance to stay at the DonCesar on St. Pete Beach.

a large pink building with many windows and a beach with chairs with Don CeSar in the background

Final Thought

As we travel more, I am realizing the kind of places where we prefer to stay. We don’t necessarily need to stay in luxury hotels. Instead, we prefer places that have interesting histories or are more centrally located to the reason for our visit. While a stay at a fancy hotel is nice every once in a while, it’s not the main reason for our trips.

Initially, I thought the only way to stay at a hotel with something extra was by avoiding the large hotel chains. However, I have discovered over time that many of these hotels are now affiliated with larger hotel programs. Some hotels have even sold to larger brands, such as Hyatt buying the Dream Hotels and Apple Leisure Group or Marriott buying the City Express hotels. Others have formed more flexible partnerships, like the one between Hyatt and Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

So, while I once asked for help because we were staying with Marriott Bonvoy hotels too much, I have significantly softened my position about staying at chain hotels. If the hotel fits our needs and appears to be an interesting place to stay, I’m not against visiting just because it is a part of a large hotel program.

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