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CHAIN OF (HOTEL) FOOLS
By Michael Matthews
June 30, 2011 -- I really feel sorry for you poor business travelers. Rushing from city to city. Always wondering if your flight will leave on time. Worried about being late for that all-important meeting. Worried that the hotel your corporate travel department booked will have a room for you. And so on.

I've been there, done that and I have the scars to prove it. But things in the travel world just got tougher. As if you weren't already flummoxed by the huge array of hotel brands created by the world's major hotel "families," you're going to be even more confused in the years ahead.

Starwood, for example, has nine different brands from which to choose. Quick, tell me the difference between an Aloft and an Element? Hell, I'm an hotelier and I can't. So how you, the business traveler, are expected to know is beyond me.

For the record, though, Starwood says Aloft is "a new destination sensation. A world that's lively, not lonely. [It] delivers a fresh, fun and fulfilling reinvention of the travel experience." Element, Starwood says, is "a renewing haven for the road-weary traveler. [It] transforms the extended stay experience by providing guests with a space to live their lives as they wish, at their own pace." Well, that all seems clear…

Marriott has 18 different brands from which to choose. Have you ever stayed at an Edition or an Autograph? Please tell me if you have. I haven't.

For the record, Edition is a collaboration between stuffy, by-the-book Marriott and Ian Schrager, the supposed master of lifestyle hotels. (More about him later, by the way.) And Autograph isn't so much a brand as a booking service. It's a gaggle of independent properties that Marriott has convinced to use its booking and marketing engine and frequent guest program.

Our friends at Hilton have ten brands from which to choose. When's a Waldorf not a Waldorf? When it's the Waldorf Astoria brand and not the Waldorf=Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan. Hilton must think the equal sign between Waldorf and Astoria in the Manhattan hotel's name is unique, so it doesn't appear in the name of the Waldorf Astoria chain. And don't get me started on Hilton's latest brand, which is called Home2. I'm just a hotelier, not a mathematician.

Near the bottom of the lodging heap is Choice Hotels. It has 11 different brands and, frankly, they're all of approximately the same (questionable) caliber. Why have eleven brands selling the same thing? What kind of "choice" is that?

So what's going on? Aren't there enough hotel chains, brands and properties out there? I mean, almost half of the nation's estimated 4.7 million guestrooms are empty on an average night. What could we possibly need? What new name could we remember? What concept is out there that we don't already have?

Can you tell me what an AC Hotel is? It's Marriott's newest brand. Well, sort of. It's an existing chain of hotels in Europe, mainly located in Spain and Portugal, that has recently lined up with Marriott. The AC properties in Europe have slapped the Marriott name on the door and Marriott wants to launch the AC brand in North America. Maybe the angle will be that every guest of an AC hotel receives a piece of Spain and Portugal's sovereign debt to put in their investment portfolio. After all, there's more debt in Spain and Portugal than North America has hotel rooms.

Or perhaps the new hotel brand from the aforementioned Ian Schrager will be the hot new thing. He's calling his chain the Public Hotels. Surely Mr. Schrager knows that hotels are already public. Or does he? Maybe Schrager grew up under Stalin or something…

Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing entrepreneur, is launching his own hotel brand, too. Surprise! He's going to call it Hilfiger Hotels. Can you imagine rushing out of an airport after your flight and hopping into a cab? "Yes, driver, take me to the Hilfiger, please." It just doesn't ring right to me.

Then there's a new brand called KOP Hotels, which no doubt will all be located near a police station. And Sonesta Hotels, which almost no one knows, is launching a chain called Kept Hotels. I'm not sure if I want to announce at a business meeting that I always stay at a Kept Hotel. But unlike Schrager's Public Hotels, maybe Kept Hotels will only be available to gentlemen and their mistresses.

Meanwhile, Harry Cipriani, the restaurateur, has launched Mr. C Hotels. The first opened earlier this month in Beverly Hills. I think saying "I'm staying at the Cipriani" sounds better than "I'm at Mr. C." It sounds more like a prohibition-era speakeasy than a hotel, if you ask me. And was it Mr. C's idea to make the umbrellas around the pool the same shade of orange as the roof of the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain? Think I'm kidding? Check out the picture on the Mr. C home page.

But wait, there's more.

Adagio Hotels is a new brand by Accor, the French hospitality giant that already has 14 other lodging chains. Adagio may be music to your ears, but it means to play slowly. I hope it isn't a comment on the speed and quality of the service you'll receive.

And the Lootah Hotel Group says it is committed to building the Sharia Resort. Lootah, which already operates three Sharia-compliant hotels in Dubai, says the property will be the first Sharia-compliant resort in the world. That's not a joke. Here's the joke: Maybe instead of happy hour they'll flog and stone infidels by the pool at sunset. That's a kind of a happy hour, I guess.

Is your head about to explode? Stay calm because those are only a few new brands announced to coincide with the 34th International Hospitality Conference held earlier this month in New York. And there have been 79 new hotel brands announced in the last nine months. That's not a typo. It's 79.

Will many (any?) of the Hilfiger, Adagio, KOP and Kept hotels ever be built? Who knows. But I pity you, the traveler, trying to decide which property you'll try on your next trip. Besides suggesting that you ignore the Sharia-compliant resort for your next vacation, I have no idea which (or any) of these new chains you should try. I don't even know what any of these chains stand for or promise.

Well, maybe I do know what one of them will do, but my wife doesn't even own a burqa, so…

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright © 2011 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.