Why some hotel chains vary in quality

Why Some Hotel Chains Vary in Quality, While Others Don’t

by Malcolm Logan

Have you ever wondered why some hotel chains vary in quality? Go to one Best Western, and it’s clean, well-organized, modernized, rich with amenities. But go to another and it’s a bit out-of-date, a tad run down, a little seedy. What’s going on?

This is by no means limited to the Best Western chain. You’ll experience it with other brands as well, Comfort Inns, Ramada Inns, Quality Inns and La Quintas, to name a few.

On the other hand, some hotel chains are models of consistency. The quality of Hampton Inns is so consistently reliable it may take you a moment to remember what city you’re in when you’re inside of one.


Short Leash

Why some hotel chains vary in quality

The exacting standards of some chains keep some franchisees on a short leash. Lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn in Dupage, IL.

The difference in consistency has to do with how each franchise is organized. With a Hilton Hotel franchise (which includes the brands Hampton Inn, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn and others) the franchisor keeps the franchisee on a tight leash. In exchange for licensing the Hilton system, the franchisee must abide by strict standards. Those standard cover everything from operation, appearance and service, to construction and furnishing. If a franchisee fails to meet the standards, Hilton can terminate the franchise agreement.

With other franchisors, like the Choice Hotel group (which includes the brands Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Econo Lodge, Rodeway and others) the franchisee is given much more latitude in how to operate and build out their hotels. This accounts for the variability of these brands, and the lack of consistency between properties.

Still other chains are independently owned and operated franchises. The franchisees pay the brand a fee for advertising, reservations, a frequent-guest program and other support, but are pretty much on their own beyond that. This explains why some brands are merely flags with little quality control from the brand, while others are more strictly overseen by franchisors. Most Best Westerns are independently owned and operated franchises.


Changing the Flag

Why some hotel chains vary in quality

Changing flags is usually not a sign of increasing quality

Because brands with less strict standards do not have such strong physical brand identities, the franchisor’s brand is essentially a flag. A flag is the brand’s name, logo and signage. If the franchisee fails to meet the franchisor’s standards, the flag can be stripped from the franchisee, and the franchisee can apply to another franchisor for a different flag, one with less exacting standards, presumably. That’s why you sometimes see the same property change brands, going from, say, a LaQuinta to a Quality Inn. Usually, it’s a sign of decreasing quality, although not always.

By making the physical look of the properties part of the brands, as is the case with Hilton Garden Inns, Courtyards by Marriott, and Staybridge Suites, to name a few, franchisees are locked into the brands in a way that others with less distinctive looking properties are not, making it risky to change flags. As a franchisee, you can put a Comfort Inn sign on a Hilton Garden Inn, but customers will still expect Hilton Garden Inn’s level of quality. For travelers seeking consistency from hotel brands, one of the best ways to do it is to seek out brands with distinctive physical identities and known track records for good quality.

Increasingly, consistency is a major component in travelers’ decision making when it comes to lodging. Understanding why some chains are more consistent than others can help you make better decisions and have a more satisfying travel experience.



Cabanas, Alex. “Chain versus Independent – A View from an Operator of Independent Hotels,” HospitalityNet, 5 March 2014, Website

“Hilton Hotels and Resorts Franchise Costs and Fees.” Franchise Direct, acquired January 23, 2021, Website

“How Flagged Hotels Are Competing with the Independent Boutique Experience.” SVN/Northco, 3 October 2019, Website

Riley, Mars. “Best Western. Worst Western.” A Hundred Monkeys/Name.Branding, acquired Jan 22 2020, Website

“Why More Hotels are Owned by Franchisees.” Hotel Online, 4 February 2020, Website


Image Credit

Hilton Garden Inn exterior, by Frank O’Dwyer

Hilton Garden Inn public area, DiscoverDupage

Changing flags,  Warwick Beacon

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