Understanding the titans of the hotel industry throughout history

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What would the hotel industry be without chain hotels? Can you imagine a world without online travel agencies like Expedia? Or how about a world without Airbnb? Some extraordinary individuals have contributed to the lodging industry that has revolutionized not only our industry but the world. Thanks to the ideas, leadership and drive of the 7 titans of the hotel industry, we can travel better today.

In this article we present seven of the most popular before important personalities of the hotel industry: Conrad Hilton, J. Willard Marriott, Isadore Sharp, Jay Pritzker, Barry Sternlicht, Brian Chesky and Rich Barton. Learn more about their backgrounds, career paths, the companies they founded and how they fit into the evolution of the hotel industry. And you might find the inspiration you need to bring your ideas to life or start your own business!

The early days of the hotel industry

The concept of a hotel is not new; boarding houses, inns, caravanserais and other early forms of lodging have been around for thousands of years. These simple lodgings provided travelers with a place to sleep, a hot meal, and stables for their horses. Early "hotels" were family-run and often located in the same building where the family lived.

When travel began from the 14. As the hotel industry became more common in the twentieth century, some European countries required hotels to document their guests'. These new laws signaled the beginning of the hotel industry – hoteliers were now running legitimate businesses in the eyes of local governments. To the 18. By the eighteenth century, every city had at least several hotels in the center of town to meet the demand for overnight accommodations. Many hotels became attractions in their own right, such as Le Grand Hôtel Paris and the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, which were known for their beautiful architecture and glamorous clientele.

The boom of the hotel industry in the United States

Until the middle of the 20. At the beginning of the twentieth century, almost all hotels were owned and operated independently. There was also a clear distinction between the stylish, cosmopolitan hotels in inner cities and the simple roadside motels in rural areas. Two entrepreneurs on opposite sides of the country saw opportunities to bring a high standard of service to the hotel industry and created the eponymous names we all know today: Conrad Hilton and J. Willard Marriott.

Conrad Hilton entered the hotel business somewhat by accident when his plan to buy a bank fell through; instead, he bought the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas in 1919. Seeing that he could run a hotel successfully, Hilton sought out promising hotel offerings and continued to expand his portfolio over the next few decades. Well-known hotels such as the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City and the Plaza Hotel became Hilton hotels, and the company acquired the Statler Hotel Company in the largest real estate transaction of its time. Hilton is credited with not only building a global hotel empire, but also popularizing the star rating system and combining hotels, restaurants and casinos.

Like Hilton, J. Willard Marriott's I have no intention of becoming a hotel magnate. He began his career in the hospitality industry by opening A&W Root Beer stores in the Washington, D.C. managed and built a sizable restaurant and foodservice business. When it came time for his next project, Marriott opened a motel in Arlington, Virginia, with great results. Marriott became known for his hands-on management style and perfectionist mindset, and as the Marriott company grew, he continued to stay in the middle of the action. In fact, he never retired from Marriott, even after his son Bill took over as CEO. Under its leadership, Marriott became the largest hotel company in the world with more than 30 brands under its umbrella.

In addition to Hilton and Marriott numerous hotel brands emerged in the mid-20. He was also one of the first to open a hotel in the early twentieth century, such as Holiday Inn and Motel 6. These brands could offer quality and consistency to travelers who didn't want it risk a subpar experience at an independent property. Remember, there was no Tripadvisor back then, so brands offered an appealing solution.

The rise of hotel brands

Speaking of brands, Marriott and Hilton are just two of the major hotel brands that have shaped the industry. While Hilton and Marriott were building their companies, another entrepreneur saw an opportunity to create a new type of hotel: Jay Pritzker.

Pritzker was already an established businessman and was on a business trip to Los Angeles in 1957 when he noticed a shortage of quality hotels near airports. He didn't think travelers should have to choose between pretty downtown hotels and run-down airport motels, so he created the Hyatt brand, which focused on upscale hotels near airports. Hyatt Hotels eventually spread to city hotels, especially when it introduced the Hyatt Regency brand, known for its signature atrium design.

But Pritzker wasn't the only one to realize that architecture can be an asset to a hotel brand; as a skilled builder, Isadore Sharp knew that architecture would always be a pillar of his Four Seasons hotel brand. In 1961, he opened the first Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, and guests appreciated the innovative courtyard design that gave them some relief from the sights and sounds of the city. Sharp built the Four Seasons brand into a globally recognized icon for service and luxury, and now manages more than 100 hotels in cities like Paris and far-flung destinations like Bora Bora.

Sharp wasn't the only one to seize the opportunity to target affluent travelers. Barry Sternlicht, the founder of Starwood Capital and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, also noticed a gap in the luxury hotel market when he launched brand W in 1998. Unlike the pretentious, stuffy luxury hotels that were commonplace, W Hotels offered a playful, youthful version of luxury. The W brand is considered the first "lifestyle" hotel brand, a trend that is still popular today. Starwood Hotels and Resorts' portfolio also included brands like Westin and Sheraton, and in 2016 Marriott bought Starwood, creating the largest hotel company in the world.

Accommodations in the digital age

In the 1990s, hotels conquered the world. You can book a Marriott or Four Seasons on six continents and dozens of countries. But how would you actually make that reservation? Most travelers relied on travel agents to secure reservations, or you could call the 1-800 number on a Hilton or Hyatt chain line. That changed when Rich Barton, a product manager at Microsoft, came up with the idea for Expedia in 1994. He saw how the power of the Internet could put travel booking in the hands of travelers – he just needed to create a platform to store all the data.

When Expedia went public in 1999, it was far from the only digital booking platform or online travel agency. Competitors like Booking.com, Priceline, Orbitz and Travelocity gave consumers access to good prices and information about hotels around the world. The popularity of stationary travel agencies decreased with the rise of online travel agencies. Two decades later, the OTA sector is dominated by two major players that now own the majority of the brands: Expedia Group and Booking Holdings.

But Expedia and Booking.com are not the only websites where you can book accommodation. In fact, hotels are no longer your only option. Just as Uber revolutionized the cab industry, Airbnb offers a new kind of accommodation for travelers who see local experiences or short-term apartment-style rentals. Founded in 2009 by Brian Chesky, Airbnb has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Chesky and his two roommates had the idea to rent out a few air mattresses in their apartment during a busy conference in San Francisco, and a few years later, their company became a Silicon Valley "unicorn" with a valuation of more than US$1 billion. Airbnb has grown to more than six million listings and plans an IPO in late 2020.

What can we expect from the future of the hotel industry? The pioneers of the industry are probably already hard at work developing something that will continue to change the way we travel and experience hospitality.

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