NEW YORK, NY – Most hotel brands demonstrate stronger brand equity than airline, cruise and online travel service brands, according to The Harris Poll 2016 EquiTrend Study. The 28th annual study awards the strongest brands in nearly 100 categories across the media, travel, financial, automotive, entertainment, retail, restaurants and household industries, based on consumer response.
Measuring brands’ health over time, the EquiTrend Brand Equity Index is comprised of three factors–Familiarity, Quality and Purchase Consideration–that result in a brand equity rating for each brand. Brands ranking highest in equity receive the Harris Poll EquiTrend “Brand of the Year” award for their respective categories.
This year, more than 97,000 U.S. consumers assessed more than 3,800 brands (including 78 travel brands), across nearly 500 categories.
“Destinations are fundamentally aspirational and consumers desire a reasonably full line of amenities, contributing to full service and luxury hotel brands’ equity leadership,” said Joan Sinopoli, vice president of brand solutions at Nielsen, which owns the Harris Poll. “Travel brands with strong equity also tend to be brands that offer broad scope loyalty programs, such as Marriott and Hilton. Overall, consumers feel a stronger connection, or an emotional bond with hotels, compared to the airlines they fly or the cruise lines they sail.”
The Harris Poll study finds that overall, the travel industry’s brand equity tends to be stable (up 2.3 percent since 2014) but it ranks high compared to other industries assessed, trailing only retail, consumer electronics and television media. Within travel, nine of the top 10 brands are hotel brands.
However, “fast risers” in equity cut across the different travel categories. These include: Hilton Hotels & Resorts, W Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, SpringHill Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Courtyard Marriott, JetBlue Airways, Virgin America Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Priceline.com, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line. These brands have increased more than five percent in equity since 2014–a significant increase given the tendency for equity to resist rapid movement.
Hilton Brands Top Charts in Three Hotel Categories
Harris Poll’s study shows that Hilton brands demonstrate the strongest brand equity in three of five hotel categories: extended stay, full service and mid-market. Additionally, Hilton ranks high on loyalty, and within the full service category, is highest in purchase consideration, most loved and most trustworthy. Hilton, along with Courtyard by Marriott, places among Harris Poll’s top ten percent of all brands assessed.
“Free benefits, such as breakfast and evening social hours, an upscale atmosphere and a top loyalty program all help raise consumers’ perceptions of the Hilton brand, said Sinopoli. “The W Hotel and Resorts, known for a contemporary and modern feel, appeals to younger, luxury-seeking consumers and helps the brand reclaim its top spot for the first time since 2012.”
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Economy Hotel Brands of the Year
1. Microtel Inn & Suites
2. Days Inn
3. Red Roof Inn
Other Economy Hotel Brands in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): America’s Best Value inn, EconoLodge, Motel 6, Rodeway Inn, Super 8
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Extended Stay Hotel Brands of the Year
1. Homewood Suites by Hilton
2. Candlewood Suites
Other Extended Stay Hotel Brands in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Extended Stay America, MainStay Suites, Residence Inn
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Full Service Hotel Brands of the Year
1. Hilton Hotels & Resorts
2. Marriott Hotels
3. Courtyard Marriott
4. Hilton Garden Inn
5. Hyatt Hotels and Resorts
6. Embassy Suites
Other Full Service Hotel Brands in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Doubletree by Hilton, Hyatt Place Hotels, Kimpton Hotels, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Renaissance Hotels, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, SpringHill Suites, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Luxury Hotel Brands of the Year
1. W Hotels and Resorts
2. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
3. Grand Hyatt
4. The Ritz Carlton
Other Luxury Hotel Brands in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Conrad Hotels & Resorts, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Park Hyatt, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Mid-Market Hotel Brands of the Year
1. Hampton Inn & Suites
2. Holiday Inn Express Hotels & Resorts
3. Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts
4. Country Inns & Suites by Carlson
5. Fairfield Inns and Suites
6. Best Western Hotels
7. Comfort Suites
Other Mid-Market Hotel Brands in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Clarion Hotels, Comfort Inn, Howard Johnson Hotels, LaQuinta Inns & Suites, Quality Inn & Suites, Ramada Hotels, Sleep Inn Hotels
Southwest Leads Across Equity Metrics, but JetBlue, Virgin America on the Rise
This year’s Harris Poll study marks the sixth consecutive year Southwest Airlines has secured the Brand of the Year title in the value airlines category–a feat achieved only by nine other brands in the EquiTrend study. Additionally, Southwest leads all airline brands – value and full service – across all measures of equity, including familiarity, quality and purchase consideration. Meanwhile, JetBlue (+5.9%) and Virgin America (+9.1%) show a rise in equity scores over the last three years.
“We won’t know the full extent of Southwest’s operational issues on the brand’s equity for some time; much depends on how customers judge the carrier’s response and how they feel they were treated in the aftermath of the shutdown,” said Sinopoli. “But our research and experience show that it takes a lot to shake consumers’ positive sentiment towards brands, like Southwest, that have such a loyal following.”
The Harris Poll study shows that consumers are more likely to perceive value airlines to have brand equity momentum, or to be “on the way up.” Thirty-one percent of consumers consider JetBlue to be on the way up, compared to Southwest Airlines (30%) and Virgin America (26%). Although full service, traditional carriers still maintain strong market share, consumers are more likely to perceive these brands as “on the way down.”
“As value airlines offer amenities traditionally associated with full service airlines, such as JetBlue’s free inflight entertainment and Southwest’s two bags fly free offer, they provide an alternative for consumers who may be dissatisfied with full service airlines,” said Sinopoli. “Our research shows that millennial consumers in particular are disappointed with traditional airlines, offering value airlines a key opportunity to strengthen their brand equity with this generation of airline travelers.”
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Value Airline Brands of the Year
1. Southwest Airlines
2. JetBlue Airways
Other Value Airlines in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America Airlines
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Full Service Airline Brands of the Year
1. Delta Airlines
2. Alaska/Horizon Airlines
3. American Airlines
4. Hawaiian Airlines
5. United Airlines
Other Full Service Airlines in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Air Canada, US Airways
Disney Cruise Line Reclaims Top Spot
According to the Harris Poll study, Disney Cruise Line leads in most equity metrics, including familiarity and quality.
“Disney benefits from its ‘masterbrand’ equity, as well as its position as the family cruise line for Gen X and millennial parents,” said Sinopoli.
While Carnival Cruise Lines does not appear on this year’s EquiTrend ranking, its equity score has improved since the brand’s crises of 2012 and 2013, increasing 12.6 percent in the past three years.
“What’s interesting about cruise lines is that each generation has their favorite cruise line brand,” said Sinopoli. “Disney displays the highest brand equity among Generation X, which makes sense given it is the largest generation with younger children. Norwegian Cruise Line and its ‘freestyle cruising’–with the freedom to dress up or down, no set dining times and no fixed schedule–is popular with millennials, and baby boomers bestow Holland America, known for its elegant yet laid back atmosphere, the highest equity ratings.”
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Cruise Line Brands of the Year
1. Disney Cruise Line
2. Royal Caribbean International
3. Norwegian Cruise Line
4. Holland America Cruise Line
Other Cruise Lines in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises
Online Travel Services
Expedia.com Reclaims Brand Equity Crown
A Harris Poll online survey1 shows that 41 percent of consumers agree that last minute deals enable them to take more vacations this summer than initially planned, and Harris Poll’s EquiTrend study shows that when consumers use online travel services to make these travel plans, they are more likely to consider Expedia.com and Hotels.com. Expedia is the 2016 Online Travel Service Brand of the Year, reclaiming the top spot it held in 2013 and 2014 from Hotels.com.
“Online travel services appear to be in transition,” said Sinopoli. “Standbys like Expedia.com and Priceline.com are supported by baby boomers, while services like Kayak and Trivago benefit from a somewhat higher brand equity rating among younger generations. In fact, millennials consider Trivago to have strong momentum and appear to be setting it up for a strong future.”
The 2016 Harris Poll EquiTrend Online Travel Service Brands of the Year
Other Online Travel Services in study ranked below category average (alphabetically): Travelocity.com, Trivago