The rise of monster ‘cardboard cookie cutter’ hotels

The landscape in the western world is dotted with so many bland, cheaply built, ‘cardboard’ big brand hotels that many areas are reaching saturation point. (Pun intended on soggy cardboard)

There are literally hundreds of synonyms for ‘cookie cutter’ and all of them would be suitable to the way I feel about these scourges in our cities and countrysides.

Take the two largest hotel companies in the world according to Statista, who list Wyndham with 8,976 hotels and Choice with 6,857 hotels as of June 2018. Neither of these companies are famous for owning, managing or franchising many top notch, five star luxury hotels across the planet. In all fairness they also do not profess to this fact.

The Marriott company have middle and lower brand names such as Courtyard, while Hilton have Hampton Inns, Garden Inns and the list goes on and on and on and… well, you got it by now.

Ever since the major brands divested themselves of their properties around the beginning of this century, and dove into managing and franchising in a really serious way, we have witnessed the inevitable rise of the cookie cutter ‘cardboard’ properties.

Many people with money, developers and contractors all rushed to get into this ‘cardboard’ rush, and my designation for them, the triple C (cookie cutter cardboards), was born.

Enter any large city and you will see these CCC’s everywhere, differentiated only by the brand sign stuck at the top of the structure. Come back in a year and you might find that some have just exchanged their sign for another brand, while their old sign might be adorning another similar CCC across the road.

I challenge any of you to decide on any CCC, enter one of their standard bedrooms and close the curtains. Turn on the lights and then you will realise that you could be in any standard room in any one of hundreds of brands and subbrands, almost anywhere in the world. That, to me, is sad.

Much like those ugly, all glass and no character condo skyscrapers that are erected in such a short time in many cities across the globe, these bland, brand hotels are built as quickly as possible to get the property open and generate property value. And the materials used to build those hotels? Well, take a walk into any new build hotel or condo and you will see what I mean. They are built with the cheapest materials, and the finishes are just as brutal.

I appreciate that costs are a major factor in both design and finish, but surely city approval could be just a ‘tad’ more demanding in making sure that their residents live in a place where character is added to the skylines, not more glass?

Having said that I must praise those investors that build extraordinary hotels with character and themes. Here the resort hotels generally lead the way with innovative design that ‘blends’ with the local topography and whose landscaping is just superb. There seems to be no end to the sizes and shapes of pools, waterfalls and caves, and gardens that allow for privacy even in large properties. So while the main structure and rooms will be of a high standard and design, majority emphasis will be given to the dining and entertainment facilities offered at these mega resorts. Every hotel is similar in that it offers rooms, pools, restaurants and some shops, but what if you double the dining possibilities, the number of pools and gardens for relaxation, and add entertainment? Boundaries in design are being stretched in an effort to attract that revenue producer, the guest.

I guess that I have ‘generalised’ in my description of what is happening in our industry today, and there are truly some wonderful properties being built but these are very much in the luxury sector and not for ordinary mortals who work 9-5 and plan and budget so carefully for that yearly break. A long time ago a marketing and sales executive with Thomson holidays (now TUI UK) told me that many clients decide on the destination for their holidays based on a difference of £5. I can imagine that this still is relevant for many potential clients, maybe at a slightly higher sterling value.

So back to our CCC’s. I believe that the transformation of the hotel industry as a real estate business more than a lodging industry has resulted in the vast majority of investors building these CCC’s without regard to character, without regard to hospitality values but rather giving them over to the big brands to increase property value while turning a profit prior to selling.

By Stephen Ayers

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