Hotel History In Luggage Labels

Luggage Labels Have An Intricate Language. I Wish They Could Also Speak, As The Stories They Could Tell Would Be Of Far Greater Essence Than What We See Through Them Or What We Can Learn From Researching Hotel History.

Some people have hobbies that are in contrast with their work or profession. One of mine, luggage label collection, happens to be right at the heart of my professional life.  Having been a hotel development consultant, helping investors conceive, evaluate, conceptualize and manage hotel investments for over 25 years in 42 countries, hotels are a part of my life. My passion for research led me to research the history of travel and hotels, which led to this collection. To predict the future, we must first understand the past.

The hotel has always had an element of romance and mystique, even in the days of the hospice, the inn, the khan and the caravanserai. Being cocooned in the safety, warmth and conviviality of the inn with its food and drink, away from the treacherous environment of the long journey has always been a subject of social conversation even though hotels’ beginnings in the Middle Ages were simple and barely functional, and  a far cry from romantic.  From the Hospes-Hospitis and stark monks’ shelters known as Hospitale in the Middle Ages with only a few mattresses, tables and chairs, we have come a long way to the days of the newest luxury hotel in Hong Kong with its 108-storey tower or the 7,000-room mega resort in Vegas!

Innkeepers were always prominent figures, running simple family establishments of varying repute. We still have small family-run hotels or boutiques like the Hoshi Ryokan run by the 40th generation of the family since 717 AD but the real modern day innkeepers are international chains that grew from a single or like the classic Mandarin and Oriental two hotels.

Hotels evolved in 19th century into temples of refinement and luxury. The labels of those hotels often adorned the trunks and luggage of the well-travelled as status symbols.  The sticky label tradition continued through the two world wars and was gradually replaced or expunged from existence. My collection focuses on yesteryears’ ‘exotic’, once famous hotels that no longer exist, and on the Grande Dame symbols of the Belle Époque that still survive today.  Some of my favorites are by Dan Sweeney in the 1920’s. They focused on the symbolic human flavor of the place rather than the hotel, displaying confidence, understating merits while making ‘location’ the key message. No wonder the classic three key success factors for hotel investment are commonly known today as ‘location, location and location’. Richter was an Italian print house where the style was Art Deco. What was visible is the clear division between hotels serving clients at a destination and those that were a destination themselves. This is a concept we still rely upon today to create and conceive the personality of hotels at feasibility stage.
Labels tell us the distinction between persuasion and ‘positioning’ (in today’s marketing language). The self-confident labels of distinction were understated but exhibited signs of quality. Some were obviously produced without much thought, in a haphazard composition of meritless graphic message. We smile at the naiveté of history, but 100 years later I still see a huge variety in the presentation ability of hoteliers. Some labels also hint at the continuum between business and leisure, seriousness and fun, adult and family; an early indicator of market segmentation. We never develop or conceive hotels for our investors without deep market thinking and testing, before any architect, brand or operator is involved. During that process I secretly ask myself, ‘what would the sticky label of this hotel look like if we were in the golden era of luggage labels?’

A big part of my business is to predict trends and hotel performances, to create the right concepts that encapsulate economic frameworks. Although we use many scientific techniques to predict analyze and create, inspiration is always needed. Here is one of the countless inspiration sources: Hotel history and its exciting labels. 

President and co-founder of Servotel, one of the world’s leading hotel and real estate development consulting firms, Ömer İsvan is a world- class expert on international hotel, resort, housing and multiple-use projects.