Why This Major Hospitality Company Is Going All in on Independent Hotels

An inside look at Hyatt's Unbound Collection with Independent Collection vice president Katie Johnson.

<p>Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt</p>

Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt

For a long time, it felt like travelers had two paths in choosing a hotel: pick a more unique, independent boutique property or one that is more conventional and part of a larger chain. The options were fairly black and white.

Thankfully, that’s changing in a big way these days, as consumer preferences shift and more hybrid models emerge. It’s especially good news for travelers who want to collect and redeem points — or simply want additional ways to discover hidden-gem hotels.

For Hyatt, after several major acquisitions and partnerships in recent years, its independent cluster of brands continues to expand worldwide. Hyatt snapped up lifestyle company Two Roads Hospitality in 2018 and purchased the trendy Mr. and Mrs. Smith platform earlier this year. All of that means one thing — the Chicago-based chain is going all in on independent and luxury lifestyle hotels.

<p>Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt</p>

Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt

“We're actually targeting this independent-minded guest with a unique, unduplicated non-cookie-cutter experience,” said Katie Johnson, vice president and global brand leader of Hyatt's Independent Collection, in an interview with Travel + Leisure.

Johnson, herself coming from the world of boutique hotels before joining Hyatt, leads the company’s “Independent Collection.” That comprises 112 properties across three distinct brands. There is the luxury-oriented Unbound Collection by Hyatt, the resort-focused Destination by Hyatt, and the local neighborhood-led JdV by Hyatt.

<p>Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt</p>

Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt

While each independent property has its own name, logo, visual identity, and guest experience,  it is Johnson’s job to distinguish between the three brands — as well as appeal to a wide swath of travelers. Perhaps there’s a regular Hyatt member who is considering a boutique hotel in the collection for the first time. Alternatively, it could be a guest in search of a unique stay who stumbles across the Hyatt affiliation. According to Johnson, about 40 percent of Hyatt’s independent collection business is currently the former; that is, guests coming directly from World of Hyatt to book.

Unbound Collection hotels are on the upper end of luxury for independent properties including hotels like Great Scotland Yard Hotel in London; Hôtel Martinez in Cannes, France; and Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix.

<p>Joakim Blockstrom/Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt</p>

Joakim Blockstrom/Courtesy of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt

While a key distinguishing factor with Unbound hotels is high-touch service and meticulous standards, Destination by Hyatt and JdV (formerly Joie de Vivre) have slightly different positioning. Destination properties are led by the environment first and are ideal for groups; Johnson uses the term “true to place” to describe these resort-like hotels. Meanwhile, JdV is the fastest-growing brand among Hyatt independents, aiming to reflect its neighborhood. Examples include Hotel 50 Bowery in New York’s Chinatown and Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco’s Japantown.

As for the recent acquisition of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, don’t expect those swanky and varied hotels — such as Dunton Town House in Telluride, Colorado; The Retreat at Blue Lagoon in Iceland; and Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa in Chile — to join the Hyatt independent portfolio. As opposed to owning properties outright, Mr. and Mrs. Smith operates as a marketing and booking platform. While these hotels won’t become Hyatt branded, members should still be able to earn and redeem points and make use of their elite perks once the partnership goes live.

Meanwhile, expanding the independent collection is about finding smaller companies that have a shared vision with Hyatt, Johnson said. Her team is currently vetting more than 1,600 portfolios with plans for  “a lot of growth in Europe and Asia.”

Of course, Hyatt isn’t the only chain that’s going full throttle on boutique hotels; there’s Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Hilton’s Curio Collection, IHG Hotels & Resorts’ Vignette Collection, among others. However, as a much smaller company than its competitors, Johnson said that Hyatt has created a more collaborative approach to working with boutique hoteliers (or soon-to-be hoteliers). “We don't have to play by the rules like the big brands do, we can get creative," she said.

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