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Spark by Hilton: A Motel by Any Other Name?

Hilton has just thrown open the doors to the first member of its new Spark by Hilton brand, and boy, oh boy, does it leave us with some questions. Say hello to the Spark by Hilton Mystic Groton in Mystic, CT, a place that, at first glance, looks like a questionable roadside motel with a fresh coat of paint. And that’s no optical illusion – this property used to go by the name “Days Inn by Wyndham Mystic.” While Hilton seems to have slapped on a new (and might I add, less than appealing) paint job and spruced up a few areas, let’s not get carried away. It’s akin to slapping lipstick on a pig.

Spark by Hilton is Hilton’s newest addition to its roster of economy brands. Following rivals Marriott and Hyatt amid these uncertain economic times, Hilton’s leaping into the lower-tier market, and it’s diving in headfirst. Perhaps a bit too headfirst, given the dubious “charm” of this Mystic property. Spark seems dead-set on converting old motels into something that, at best, competes with the likes of Motel 6 and Howard Johnson. Conversion-only brands rarely produce anything that’s, well, truly worth staying in, and Spark’s no exception. The writing on the wall suggests that this is a brand that’s more in line with your typical motel next to an interstate and a Denny’s than midscale joints like Hampton Inn or Hyatt Place.

What do you get when you shack up at Spark? The usual amenities you’d expect from a low-tier Hilton brand – complimentary breakfast that might make you wish you’d just gone out to eat locally instead, free Wi-Fi, a 24-hour market stocked with life’s essentials, simple furniture that’s functional but hardly Instagram-worthy, and an open closet – which, let’s be honest, the fewer nooks and crannies in a hotel likely to have hit-or-miss housekeeping, the better. We just hope the towels are good.

While Hilton’s Spark by Hilton brand enters the economy hotel segment, competitors like Hyatt and Marriott have introduced their own low-tier brands. Hyatt’s new brand Hyatt Studios focuses exclusively on new-build properties, potentially addressing their weaknesses in the select-service space, and allowing them to expand to markets they otherwise may not have served. Marriott’s StudioRes appears geared towards extended stay travelers who want amenities like a full kitchen. These moves may make a lot more sense than simply taking old Wyndham motels and giving them a fresh coat of paint.

But here’s the real head-scratcher. Are we witnessing a subtle shift in Hilton’s grand strategy? It’s no secret that domestic Hilton properties took a nosedive in quality, especially when compared to heavy-hitters like Hyatt and Marriott during the pandemic. Could it be that Hilton’s given up on trying to duke it out with the big boys and is slowly realigning itself to take on Wyndham and Choice Hotels? With Spark, they’ve effectively rolled out a motel brand that, well, looks like it belongs in Wyndham’s stable more than Hilton’s.

So, there you have it, folks. Spark by Hilton has entered the chat, and it seems like they’re setting their sights on the motels rather than the Marriotts of the world. Let’s just hope the rest of the Spark properties have a bit more shine.

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