By Judith Rubin
In the face of stiff competition from homestays, company consolidation and online booking aggregators, traditional hotel operators have turned to the untraditional to capture and re-capture market share. The industry is developing differentiated products and marketing, and unique, themed hospitality options are changing the conversation.
Because in a world where one frequently hears the mantra, “experiences are more important than things,” it’s just wrong to choose a hotel solely on price.
Values vs “value”
The “experiences over things” mantra itself is a clear signal that “value” does not necessarily equate to cost. Changing the conversation to address this means empowering customers to base their choices on other, emotionally resonant factors that align with their core values and the kind of experience they want to have – factors such as authenticity, adventure and local flavor.
Theming and IP can provide that vital point of differentiation that turns a hotel stay into a unique experience. When it comes to serving families in that regard, Hasbro is a major IP owner, active in global leisure markets, that recognizes the hospitality platform as having significant opportunities for its many beloved, family friendly brands. Through the company’s LBE vertical, Hasbro is teaming with hotel and resort operators to build on those opportunities – and reaching out to create more such opportunities.
Several unique properties utilizing Hasbro IP are already coming online, including two soon to open hotels in China and Southeast Asia. The first TRANSFORMERS AND MY LITTLE PONY themed hotel by AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION will open to the public in 2018 in Shanghai through a joint endeavor of Zhongyou, Marriott and Hasbro. And the world’s first Monopoly hotel, Monopoly Mansion by Sirocco, will open in 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, a boutique 5-star hotel housed at M101 Bukit Bintang.
Hasbro is actively reaching out to the hospitality sector as part of its active involvement in location based entertainment markets. The company is well represented with offices and branding centers around the world, and visible at major industry gatherings including the upcoming IAAPA Euro Attractions show in Amsterdam (23-27 September), and the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando (November 12-16).
Families and Hasbro IP
Matthew Proulx, Sr. Director, Global Branded Experiences, Hasbro sees it as helping families to enjoy more time together, and the Hasbro family of brands as a wealth of IP perfectly suited to the hospitality platform. “There are macro trends from the family perspective; a lot of outside factors that distract from operating as a family unit,” explains Proulx. “Time is consolidated. In the quest to find ways for a family to have memorable experiences together, to bond parent-child, strong brands and IPs create points of connection that allow people to escape everyday life and share memories. Hasbro has those strong brands to create those memorable experiences.”
The strength of Hasbro brands, according to Proulx, resides in three key attributes: relatability, shareability and repeatability. Relatability: “Everyone understands or has a general sense of the brand. People have grown up with these brands and have experienced them over time.” Shareability: “People share these brands with others and create experiences around them.” Repeatability: There’s continuous opportunity to re-engage and keep the feeling alive; a happiness point of connection between family members and in the social media space, and a motivation to repeat the experience in the future.”
The hotel is not just a place to sleep and eat anymore. It’s now where the vacationing family might be greeted on arrival by Optimus Prime or Bumblebee, enjoy a character breakfast with Pinkie Pie and other favorite “My Little Pony” characters, spend the afternoon playing Dungeons and Dragons, Monopoly, Nerf and other Hasbro games, or pile into a Transformers themed ride. This kind of themed hotel experience provides an IP immersion that goes well beyond the surface, well beyond the décor.
The themed hotel and Hasbro IP
In her Oct 2017 article, “Not Just Rooms, Hotels Offer One-of-a-Kind Experiences,” New York Times columnist Elizabeth Olson discusses themed hospitality offerings that make a property into a destination in its own right, and how established operators such as Hyatt and Marriott are mobilizing their resources, loyalty programs and partnerships to help succeed in the game.
The phrase “themed hotel” is readily found on travel sites and in the media nowadays. The range of themes is quite wide, from animals to historical periods, to cuisine, or tied to a specific leisure activity or sport, mode of travel, luxury or entertainment. One can, if desired, browse for hotels accordingly. The Marriott website, for instance, allows a user to begin with the type of theme or activity and drill down from there.
Will it bring the desired results and return on investment? The best-known manifestation of Hasbro IP is the Transformers rides at Universal Studios parks, but the reality and the company’s goals for the LBE and hospitality space go far beyond that. Hasbro has done a great deal of homework to bring its brands into position for these opportunities. The company has invested considerable research and resources around the world to fulfill those ambitions, know its markets and reach out to them.
“We have taken pains to understand operators’ needs, goals and objectives, whether small- medium- or large-sized, and we come to the table with a variety of options,” says Proulx. “That’s how Hasbro works and operates – with multiple solutions that range in size and scope, whether it’s a character meet-and-greet, a small interactive show, a family game night, a single ride, a complete themed land, an indoor waterpark or a greenfield project; whether it’s a standalone hotel or part of an integrated resort. If they want an immersive vacation, Hasbro can deliver that; if they want a getaway, we can provide that as well.”
In the case of integrated resorts, this model has become a standard approach to themed entertainment development, with obvious advantages for both operator and guest. Customers who stay on property spend more time and money on property. The operator has more opportunities to connect with the customer, ensure a good experience and build loyalty for repeat business. For the guest, the themed hotel maximizes their exposure to the leisure experience and activities that were the primary reason for their visit.
Research and investment
In the hospitality space, Hasbro means business, and has invested considerable resources. “We have a lot of brands, and our teams are dedicated to understanding the marketplace and how Hasbro brands relate to those markets,” says Proulx.
For Proulx and his team, the hotel represents an opportunity for family experiences and connection, and Hasbro the source of proven IP to reach across generational boundaries and catalyze it. That’s why Proulx and his Hasbro colleagues will be at EAS in Amsterdam and IAAPA in Orlando, and why they invite operators, creatives and other potential partners to connect with them. They want the industry to know that Hasbro understands the complicated business of turning an IP into a unique guest experience, whatever the platform may be.
Proulx and his team have engaged the process to the extent of having built a portfolio of viable creative concepts (some of which are shown here) based on experience, research and expertise. One concept on the Hasbro drawing board is what Proulx calls a “Creativity and Imagination Center that allows children and families to engage in free play. We feel that kids and parents need opportunities to be fully engaged in edutainment play, combining freeform play but reinforcing educational elements, science and technology, engineering and creative problem solving. We don’t see our brands just beginning and ending with thrill rides.”
They’ve also engaged consultants with long knowledge of the industry and extensive connections, such as George Wade (Bay Laurel Advisors) and Dave Schmitt (MR ProFun). The global organization includes offices in 65 countries, with an EMEA team, North America team, Latin America team and APAC team. The strong presence in Europe and the Middle East includes a European headquarters near London. “We do this to meet needs of those regions, as each has specific cultural needs,” says Proulx.
Hasbro is a global player and has been for some time. “We have global brands but also have to execute at the local level, to ensure we are engaging consumers’ tastes and cultural sensitivities, and meeting their needs from a product standpoint,” says Proulx. We understand the essence of each brand; we do research around the world, with established research centers to ensure that we understand what Hasbro brands mean to children and families of all demographics. These insights feed into our internal Brand Blueprint, bringing the full voice of our brands to all opportunities, including LBE.”
Although the company is active on all media platforms, including TV and movies, when talking about Hasbro’s rich portfolio of brands Proulx elaborates on the distinctions between it and other “studio brands.” One of Proulx’s differentiators is freshness. “Freshness involves how much flexibility a brand has to adapt within the marketplace, to move forward in a variety of ways,” he says. He describes studio brands as having a somewhat inevitable ebb and flow of high visibility when a new feature is released, followed by a dip in awareness and popularity. In contrast, since they are not necessarily tied to a film or television release schedule, Hasbro brands are “perennial, 365-day-a-year brands, vibrant brands with multiple years behind them; truly evergreen.”
The Hasbro portfolio consists mostly of toy and game products, is therefore founded on play. “The consumer is immediately going to associate a Hasbro-branded experience with play, creativity and imagination – and family,” says Proulx, rattling off numerous brands including Nerf, Easy-Bake, Mr. Potato Head, Play-doh, Connect 4 and My Little Pony.
It is unique for the IP holder to become creatively involved to the extent that Hasbro has done, in developing well-fleshed-out concepts for out-of-home entertainment platforms. Proulx believes that this level of investment makes Hasbro a better partner, with the potential to significantly streamline the process and budget, eliminate certain difficulties or obstacles and give better chances of success. In addition to bringing fresh IP, the company is bringing a fresh approach to multi-platforming that IP.
“At the end of the day, the key to success in life, work and business is truly understanding what you do not know,” says Proulx. “Don’t pretend: Surround yourself with people and organizations that have what you don’t know. We can deliver pretty pictures, but they must be based in reality. Working with our extended team, we can create and design experiences that can be built and deliver a proper return to our partners. We can combine the power and popularity of our brands with concept and operational plans that can achieve the goals of our partners. We can really and truly understand the needs of our partners. Draw a line around that: Hasbro can provide the experience and the ROI they are looking for.”
Global resources, brands and contacts
Hasbro has evolved from a traditional toy and game company to a global play and entertainment leader, with a suite of globally relevant and iconic brands. These beloved brands have enabled Hasbro to become a global market leader in location based entertainment andpromotions, with the ability to cater to the consumers and needs of each market. The company has dedicated resources to help LBE customers find the perfect fit among Hasbro’s extensive stable of brands such as TRANSFORMERS, MY LITTLE PONY and gaming properties such as MONOPOLY.
Hasbro has teams in place to address the needs of each region and culture, to determine how the brands relate to the relevant market and what would make the best experience or attraction. These teams are led by Simon Price, Director of Location Based Entertainment and Promotions, Europe, Middle East and Africa ([email protected]); Mike Fletcher, Director of Location Based Entertainment and Promotions, North America ([email protected]); Natalie Chan, Director of Location Based Entertainment and Promotions, APAC ([email protected]); and Amaranta Gomez the Sr. Manager, Location Based Entertainment and Promotions, Latin America ([email protected]).