Maite Velez-Couto|Dec 18, 2014

Beyond having dedicated many years to travel PR and marketing (let’s leave the number of years out for now), I’m a Kimpton fan. My colleagues at rbb would say I’m a bit obsessed. They may be kind of right.

That’s why the news of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) acquisition of the ultimate boutique hotel brand shocked me at a professional AND personal level. But what does this mean for the travel industry?

For one, in a world where social media makes us feel both connected yet more distant than ever before, travelers still want their stays to be a personal experience. As Greg Oates shared on, consumers don’t desire basic product consistency. In fact, “brand consistency has shifted from a positive business driver to a toxic mark of shame, quickly,” with everyone and their mothers craving the warm, fuzzy, and speak- to-me-directly approach that the folks at Kimpton mastered so well.

That said, there is a big issue that IHG – and any major hotel company considering growing its boutique brand portfolio – must face. As put by one loyalist on Kimpton’s Facebook page after the announcement (and I paraphrase) “The good karma and love that Kimpton shows customers, and the love the brand gets in return, is something that money can’t buy. It’s the kind of marketing that mega brands like the world’s largest hospitality brand (IHG) can’t pay for.”

Is this fan right? The numbers don’t lie. IHG and Kimpton have the same amount of Facebook followers, despite Kimpton being a much smaller company. In addition, there has been an outpouring of messages, posts and tweets from the Kimpton community since the announcement. It’s become clear that the Kimpton “Inner Circle” is afraid of a change – big corporate changes to important attributes like its pet policy, Karma Rewards program, funtastic corporate culture – because fans value their relationship with the boutique brand.

Kimpton’s response: “We may be growing, but our heartfelt care for you is in our DNA,” followed by a link to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” So very Kimpton of them.

Putting my loyalist fan hat on, I’m glad Kimpton is still listening. We’ll just have to sit tight and see.

Click here to read here for an in depth analysis from the folks at Skift about “Why Every Major Hotel Brand Wants in on the Boutique Business.”


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