What Does An Iconic Hotel Look Like?

Part 1 – The ‘Substance’ Of A Brand

The business of hoteliering, perhaps, dates back to the time when the first explorer trudged into a vacant room seeking refuge in order to rest and recuperate.

With growing demand and a motley bag of customers who came with their distinct charter of needs and wishes, the ‘hoteliers’ began evolving. The professional hotel owners began to define and refine what – just a place to stay in and eat at – could begin to mean and deliver.

With every pioneering entrant’s stroke of genius, talent and serendipitous discovery there began distinctions and classifications that set one apart from the other; while still serving the basic needs of food and shelter.

Of course, hotels, now as we know them, are a billion different types – with local thrusts and international flavours; from cookie-cutter assembly line chains to queer and classic stand-alones.

Let us look at some of the factors that make a brand stellar and iconic –

  1. Iconic hotels have a story to tell
A unique hotel must have what I call a ‘story’ about it. You can call it history or legacy. The 1887 born Raffles Singapore has been the grand old lady of the East. From witnessing the Japanese occupation of Singapore to becoming the transit camp for the prisoners of war, from being the birthplace of the Singapore Sling or the preferred hideout for some of the world’s finest authors to being the subject or setting of some films and novels, The Raffles is full of awe-inspiring lore. Similarly, The Imperial in New Delhi was a participant-observer to the saga of India’s independence. In fact, annals of history show that the Declaration of Independence may have been signed at this grand hotel which became part of Edwin Lutyens’ vision for New Delhi as the new capital of India.
A rich past lends an outstanding personality to a hotel. The history helps weave a web of stories in which the guests can be fascinatingly ensnared and with the fabric of which many a PR yarn is spun. One of the hotels I worked for was one of India’s grand old men having witnessed the Freedom Struggle and having been part of the Raj era. We reaped an interesting harvest of this rich legacy from seeds sown in that time. Not only did the loaded past fluff us up with a sense of pride, making us feel as if we had been a part of it, our guests loved it too – holding meetings in the room where the Partition treaty was signed, banqueting in the Royal Ballroom where the Earls, Knights and the Indian Rajas and Ranis had waltzed, eating with perhaps the same heirloom silverware that the blue-blooded had partied in.
Elsewhere, hotels have named suites after eminent writers who stayed in them; so there is a Maugham, Kipling, Christie suite. Coco Chanel and Rockefeller made virtually their homes in luxury hotels. There are cakes named after celebrities who loved the presentation or perhaps gardens on the premises christened after the famous feet that tread upon its grounds.
Every iconic place has its singularly exceptional ‘story.’ How it came about? What slices of history has it shared in a common past! There may be an heirloom spin about the owners or the notable guests. There are unusual facets and delectable twists and turns that make the tapestry of its birth and life worthy enough to be talked about and rejoiced in.
So, be very proud if there is a ‘story’ from the annals of time that you can tell and then go ahead and tell it with a sense of flair and relish. Your guests are going to love it.
  1. Iconic hotels sweat the small Stuff
One of the legendary hoteliers, heading an eponymous luxury chain, is known to send his staff – from the General Manager to the Doorman – into a maniacal tizzy every time he plans to visit one of his hotels. Even after having successfully created, managed and run award-winning hotels in India and overseas, the Gentleman is known to have a keen eye for observation and will not let pass a crookedly placed rose stem in a vase, a spot of dust in the inner fold of a guest compendium, an otherwise sparkly-shiny glass with just two tell-tale blotches of dried drops of water that escaped the steward’s attention, the serif missed out by the designer in the Advertisement copy, the words dropped unwittingly by the Guest Relations girl from the standard greeting – you get the picture! This expectation of perfection percolates down from the Top Dog through the managers to the rest of the employees, making the Brand one of the most highly regarded globally.
It really appeals to me when Hoteliers pay attention to detail and sweat over the tiniest of stuff. One is quite wary of the hotel bread baskets where all the breads are not of the same quality and freshness. Likewise, with the butter dish which may have been passed around all too many times. So, I am really impressed with hotels and owners who will not let the smallest of issues pass their scrutiny – from that bread basket to the temperature control in the room and the choice of flowers changed to suit a guest’s peculiar allergy. Not all hotels will go that extra mile but the special ones, most undoubtedly, will.
When dealing with a people-centric industry, even the smallest of demands, desires, and likes of guests become significantly important. As hoteliers, we must keep in mind a layered pyramid of guest wants, putting in aspects from the most basic (such as cleanliness or running hot water or trained staff) to the very exquisite (dinner on a romantically lit dhow with performance by a violinist or bespoke wine served under the shadow of the Sphinx). And it becomes our ‘karma’ to ensure that each need is met with guest satisfaction and delight, however small or big it may be. The iconic hotels know this and deliver it on a silver platter, with a sense of enchantment.
  1. Iconic Hotels have a distinct Unique Selling Proposition
In the crowded marketplace of hospitality, with a multitude brands essentially selling the same thing, it becomes imperative to have a Unique Selling Proposition; that unquantifiable yet tangible special facet.
There are hotels around the globe that hold on to their uniqueness dearly and with a lot of pride. The Plaza in New York, Claridge’s in London, Le Bristol in Paris, Burj Al Arab in Dubai, Amankila in Bali – all are gems that stand out and above on account of their individuality.
So, whether it is intrinsic elegance, locational vantage point, helicopter shuttle service from the hotel’s rooftop helipad, a confluence of history, mystery and magnificence, a piece of geographical wonder, whatever is their magical power, iconic hotels hone and polish it and keep it ever gleaming in a perpetual state of readiness.

Part 2 of this feature will reflect on the ‘soul’ of being an iconic brand.


L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir is a Hospitality & Feature Writer and Columnist for some of the world’s highest-ranked Hospitality publications. Her industry writings are syndicated to the finest global hospitality bodies and used as references in case studies and hotel schools. Aruna runs an exclusive channel on the award-winning media digest, BizCatalyst 360° called “Hospitality Matters” based on her hospitality industry insight and commentary. Aruna is a recognized and national-poll winning Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist, and Writer. A seasoned hotelier, Aruna loves to present hospitality industry watch, insights, case studies, and analysis to her ever-increasing base of global readership. Aruna has over two decades of experience in Hospitality Communications and Brand Management and has worked with some of the best global hotel companies. In her last corporate role, Aruna was the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, where she was part of the core group and was responsible for re-launching The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in India and Asia. Aruna’s hotel experience includes leading the Marketing Communications and Public Relations portfolio for flagship properties at The Oberoi Group and Hyatt International. She also helped launch the Vilases as the uber-luxury experiences from the Oberoi stable. As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization dockets on business communication, written manuals, conducted Image Study & Positioning Analysis, and led media campaigns of Australian Ministers in India. Aruna Dhir’s successful work tenure with Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in India in the capacity of Media Relations Officer, saw her working on a host of never-done-before exciting projects including the hugely rewarding organisation of Australia-India New Horizons – Australia’s largest ever Country Promotion. Aruna Dhir is the first-ever Creative Writer for the Indian greeting cards giant – ARCHIES Greetings and Gifts Ltd. The milestone puts her in the league of Helen Steiner Rice and Amanda Bradley. While with the company she came out with several series of cards sold under her byline – an unprecedented feat that has not been repeated since. L. Aruna Dhir also dabbles in poetry and has to her credit two titles of Anthologies published and marketed by Archies G&G Ltd. Aruna serves on the Board of Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues (AELD), a front-running Commonwealth Body that works towards developing leaders and influencers of tomorrow, with Princess Anne as its international President. Aruna has been engaged in freelance work for Doordarshan – the Indian National Television, All India Radio, and Times FM. Academically, L. Aruna Dhir topped at the All-India level in her PG Diploma in Public Relations and Advertising. Aruna has been a Ph.D. scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, akin to an Ivy League in India. She has earned a Senior Management Course Certification from the Oberoi Centre for Learning & Development in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; V Dimension Management Company, London & Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines. Aruna Dhir has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the GSE Program of Rotary International. She has also participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. Aruna is a Life Member of the Public Relations Society of India A Freelance Writer since 1987, with articles that have appeared in India’s topmost newspapers and magazines, Aruna is also a blogger, a memoirist with works published on platforms like Medium and a Book reviewer on Goodreads. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA, WSPA,, Friendicoes to name a few. Born at Allahabad (now Prayagraj), one of the world’s oldest known cities, L. Aruna Dhir grew up and did her schooling in Dehradun, regarded as a prominent seat of academia and literature. After being brought up in the sylvan surroundings of the verdant Doon valley, Aruna chose to make the Capital City of Delhi her second home.

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