Everyone wondered what would happen to Kimpton Hotels after its acquisition by IHG late last year. One major concern was that IHG’s lower standards (elite status doesn’t get you much) would tarnish Kimpton’s stellar reputation. They certainly went above and beyond when Megan and I hosted our wedding party at Kimpton’s Alexis Hotel in Seattle a few years ago. We heard only recently that Kimpton plans to retain a separate loyalty program, Kimpton Karma, despite the acquisition. That’s good news for the brand even if it means we won’t be able to redeem IHG Rewards points for a free night at some of their great hotels.
But apparently not all is well. I found an interesting article on Hotel Chatter about union disputes causing some hotels to separate from the Kimpton chain. Remember that the majority of large hotel chains are actually a collection of independently owned properties that then submit to the operational standards of a particular brand. That brand hands over hundreds of pages of key standards and other rules that the hotel must follow while also taking a cut of the revenue. In exchange, the hotel hopes that being listed among the brand’s other properties and in its marketing campaigns and website leads to increased bookings.
The Hotel Monaco San Francisco just made the decision to lose the Kimpton brand and is now called “The Marker Hotel” and part of Destination Resorts. (I stayed at L’Auberge Del Mar — another Destination Resort — this past January and really enjoyed it.) Hotel Monaco is one of Kimpton’s main brands, with Monaco properties in several of the cities where it has one or more hotels. Kimpton itself is based in San Francisco.
Hotel Chatter reports that one main reason for leaving was IHG’s existing union commitments, whereas many Kimpton properties are not unionized. Apparently the owners would rather leave than ask their employees to vote in a unionization campaign, and many other Kimpton hotels may be planning similar moves because IHG’s existing union agreements require a “card check” for every new hotel. Regardless of where you stand on the union issue, the hotel owners appear not to be in favor and would rather avoid it.
If this is true, losing more than a few properties — especially some of its best — could be a big blow to Kimpton. It was already a small chain to begin with, and as much a IHG appears to be trying to leave it alone to do what it does best, losing hotels isn’t a good thing.
Union struggles aren’t unique to the travel industry. Delta, for example, is one of the largest airlines without a large number of unionized employees. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers recently called a temporary halt to their unionization campaign after complaints of voting fraud. However, the arrangement between independent owners and a central, branded hotel operator does create some additional complications.