Last January, I stayed at a beautiful Airbnb in the West Village. It had even been featured in a design magazine. But the posh chaise lounge and Philips Hue lighting was of little solace when I was shivering in my bed all night wearing three layers of clothing. Only later did I learn that to create the picturesque interior, the owner had ripped out the apartment’s only radiator.
Airbnb sells us on adventure, but there’s little promise of consistency. And that leaves an opportunity for a dependable travel brand like Hyatt to claim some of this turf—with what the hotel operator calls its Unbound Collection.
The Unbound Collection is a curated list of what Hyatt calls "stays," which for now means boutique hotels that are co-branded with Hyatt. The short list includes Austin’s haunted hobnobbing space, the Driskill, and a restoration of the Hawaiian resort made famous by Elvis Presley, Coco Palms. These hotels will both advertise and operate as themselves, but they’re presented in marketing as "by Hyatt." The hotels pay a percentage of their revenue to be involved, while Hyatt offers them a customer base, a booking back end, and the sort of purchasing power a business the size of Hyatt can get.
"What you’re seeing is the idea of travel has changed, and people want to explore and develop and have new experiences," says Maryam Banikarim, CMO at Hyatt. "On the flipside, they are creatures of habit—human nature wants things that are familiar."
Developed in conjunction with brand consultancy Wolff Olins, the Unbound Collection's identity is what it calls a "soft brand." Rather than claiming all of the attention for itself, the logo is a monogram, drawn in thin lines to evoke a passport stamp certifying a stay. This concept plays out in a series of supporting brand marks, too—amenities such as drinks, beaches, architecture, and sports appear like Boy Scout badges highlighting what makes any one particular hotel distinct from its peers. And all of these marks are available in various colors, to match the aesthetics of any member in the collection.
"We found a really common thread—or an uncommon thread—that every property has a unique story, whether that was the ghost that lives at the Driskill, or at another property in Uruguay, it could be all about the vineyard it’s set in," says Lisa Smith, head of design at Wolff Olins. "To be extraordinary as [part of] this collection was something we started to see as the vision and purpose."
For now, the "stays" Hyatt is offering will take the form of boutique hotels. Strategically, it’s a sensible place for Hyatt to start. While the company’s revenue is up, its profits are down. On the other hand, boutique hotels can charge a premium over chains by nature, and their unique rooms are in growing demand globally that’s outpacing new supply.
But in the future, the Unbound Collection will be a place where Hyatt can experiment with its own identity in the travel experience. "We’re not limiting ourselves just to hotels," Banikarim says. "It’s a collection of stays." When I ask if that includes oceanside manors or New York penthouses like you might find on Airbnb, she doesn’t commit either way—but points out that Hyatt has already invested in a sharing economy platform, Onefinestay.
So while Hyatt is bullish on expanding outside of conventional hotel stays, it's not renting out single-family homes just yet. But "a river cruise down the Nile?" Banikarim suggests. That’s a distinct possibility.
All Images: courtesy Wolff Olins