“Before booking vacation time, consumers face a variety of choices in where to stay and how to get there. They want to feel a connection to the travel brands they choose,” according to Joan Sinopoli, vice president, Brand Consulting, Nielsen. “Emotional preference is important: while services may be similar, that emotional connection can create the perception that the ‘connected’ brand exceeds consumer expectations.” Whether looking ahead to a specific trip or indulging in a last minute adventure, online travel services have become America’s go-to resource. For the second straight year, Expedia.com is Brand of the Year in the Online Travel Service category. Expedia.com reaches a ten-year high in Brand Equity with strong marks across all three factors; Familiarity, Quality and Purchase Consideration. Travelocity.com and Orbitz.com also rank above the Online Travel Service category average. Alaska/Horizon and Southwest Continue As Brands of the Year for Three and Four Years Respectively Many travelers set their sights on destinations which require air travel. Of the 13 Value and Full Service airlines measured in EquiTrend this year, more than half (seven) receive their highest Brand Equity score since first included in the study. “At the start of the economic downturn, EquiTrend scores showed a drop across airlines as the industry almost universally started charging fees beyond checked baggage for things like blankets, pillows, meals, boarding privileges, ticket changes, and even reservations for seats closer to the front” says Sinopoli. “In 2014, we are finally seeing a recovery from those lower equity scores – with significant increases in Brand Equity across several carriers and no significant declines in equity for any airline brands.” Among Value Airlines, Southwest Airlines is the Brand of the Year for the fourth consecutive year. Even as Southwest has evolved into a major national carrier, it maintains its original brand character and continuously creates a unique atmosphere for its flyers. “That character has created strong brand differentiation, and with it, a passionate and devoted following” says Sinopoli. JetBlue Airlines also ranks above the Value Airline category average. For the third straight year, Alaska/Horizon Airlines is the Full Service Airline Brand of the Year. Since 2008, this full-service carrier has seen steady increases in Brand Equity, driven mainly by Quality and Purchase Consideration gains. Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Airlines and American Airlines also rank above the Full Service Airline category average. A Place to Rest Your Travel-Weary Head After deciding where to go and how to get there, consumers face a host of hotel choices – from economy to luxury, limited to full service, boutique hotel to big brands, the possibilities are endless. The Harris Poll EquiTrend study includes 47 hotel brands across five categories; Luxury, Full Service, Mid-Market, Extended Stay and Economy. Omni Hotels & Resorts Reclaims Luxury Hotel Brand of the Year Title This year’s Luxury Hotel Brand of the Year is Omni Hotels & Resorts, which also was top ranked in 2011. Known for its personalized service, Omni posts significant improvements in Equity over the past three years. “Omni has shown steady gains on the Purchase Consideration metric over the past ten years,” says Sinopoli. “A rebound in Familiarity and strong Quality scores also helps drive the brand to the top ranking.” Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, W Hotels and Resorts and The Ritz-Carlton also rank above the Luxury Hotel category average. Marriott Hotels Top the Full Service Hotels Category The Full Service Hotel category Brand of the Year is Marriott Hotels, as was also the case in 2012. A significant year to year increase in Familiarity drives the top ranking for the brand, along with strong Purchase Consideration. “Marriott Hotels has the highest Equity score of any brand across all the hotel categories,” says Sinopoli. “Unmatched Purchase Consideration scores make the brand a stand-out among hotels in the study.” It’s also worth noting that Courtyard Marriott as a brand on its own ranks third, reaping the benefits of its recent repositioning, with the rollout of the bistro format. Homewood Suites by Hilton Regains Title; Hampton Earns Top Spot for First Time Homewood Suites by Hilton is the Extended Stay Hotel Brand of the Year, with significantly higher Purchase Consideration scores, compared to 2013. “Homewood Suites regains its top ranking among Extended Stay Hotels for the third time in four years,” says Sinopoli. “After a dip in Purchase Consideration in 2013, the brand is back in the top spot.” Residence Inn also ranks above the Extended Stay Hotel category average. Among Mid-Market Hotel brands, Hampton Inn & Suites claims the highest ranking for the first time. While the brand’s Quality has remained strong since first measured in 2010, Familiarity and Purchase Consideration have grown significantly in the last five years. “Hampton Inn & Suites has always been above the category average, yet this is the first year they secured the top position with a significant gain in Brand Equity,” says Sinopoli. Holiday Inn Express Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts, La Quinta Inns & Suites, Comfort Suites, Best Western Hotels and Country Inns & Suites by Carlson each rank above the Mid-Market Hotel category average. America’s Best Value Inn is Economy Hotel Brand of the Year for the Third Year Running America’s Best Value Inn is the Brand of the Year honoree in the Economy Hotel category for the third consecutive year. High marks for Quality and Purchase Consideration among those Familiar drive the brand’s top ranking. “America’s Best Value Inn is gaining in Familiarity this year, helping to increase its overall Equity,” says Sinopoli.