Strange Bedfellows: 4 Companies Surprisingly Getting into the Hotel Business

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What do a toy company, a supermarket, a low-cost furniture chain, and a movie studio have in common? They’re all trying to extend their brands—perhaps in embarrassingly awkward fashion—into the hotel business.

Should companies stick strictly to what they know and do best? These four brands think otherwise, and they’re branching out by getting involved in the hotel and resort game:

Whole Foods
In mid-March, supermarket chain Whole Foods announced (via USA Today) that sometime within the next few years it planned on opening a health resort in or around downtown Austin, where the company is headquartered. “Think of it as a center where people would go for a day, a weekend or a week for healthy lifestyle education,” Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey said.

The idea is that people would seek out the resort and “education center” for the same reasons many shoppers head to Whole Foods: It has a reputation for promoting healthy lifestyles, with a particular emphasis on fresh, natural foods. Whole Foods’ shoppers also have a reputation for their willingness to spend big bucks in pursuit of their healthy lifestyles. That bodes well for any hotel, spa, and resort business.

(MORE: Why Some Brand Extensions Are Brilliant and Others Are Just Awkward)

Few travelers would be excited to stay in supermarket-branded lodging. ShopRite Motel anybody? But because the Whole Foods brand is so closely associated with health, extending it to a health resort may make a lot of sense. Compared to McDonald’s ill-advised experiment operating four-star hotels in Europe a decade ago, a Whole Foods health resort seems like a slam dunk.

Marriott is involved with the creation of a new brand of hotels for millennials called Moxy. Marketing Moxy strictly at younger travelers is somewhat surprising. Even more surprising, though, may be Marriott’s partner in the venture: DIY furniture giant IKEA.

Moxy isn’t being launched for the sake of furniture product placement; IKEA products won’t be featured in hotel rooms at all. And yet, the companies involved are making the case that IKEA’s self-sufficient, cost-conscious shoppers will be interested in the new hotel model, which, like IKEA, will feature sleek, minimalist design, limited services (OK for DIYers), and cheap prices. The first Moxy hotel is expected to open in early 2014, near Milan’s Malpensa airport.

The first Lego-themed hotel in the U.S opens for business the first week of April 2013. The 250-room hotel, located just outside the gates of the Legoland theme park in Carlsbad, Calif., isn’t built entirely of Legos, disappointingly. But it does feature thousands of Lego models (knights, dragons, pirate ships), bold Lego-type colors everywhere from bedspreads to exterior paint, and even outdoor play areas where the shade is provided by faux trees that look just like (yep) Lego creations.

(MORE: Marriott & IKEA Launch a Hotel Brand ‘For Millennials.’ What Does That Even Mean?)

For most toy brands, opening a hotel would seem like an awkward stretch. Lego is no average toy brand, though. It’s popular and beloved enough to warrant theme parks around the globe. And the new hotel in California isn’t the company’s first; it’s based on a similar Lego-themed property, just outside the Legoland in Windsor, England. Besides, these hotels aren’t being operated strictly to make profits via room rates. The main point is “to drive more attendance to the park,” Legoland hotel general manager Frank Idris told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It just puts us more in line with the Disney resort concept where you stay and play.”

Paramount Pictures
Last summer, news broke that Paramount Pictures—the illustrious movie studio known for films such as “The Godfather,” and most certainly not known for running hotels—planned on opening 50 Hollywood- and California-themed luxury hotels around the globe. Originally, Brazil, the U.K., and Russia were among the expected locations for the first Paramount-branded hotels.

Recently, though, Dubai has emerged as the likely spot, with a 850-foot, 540-room resort expected to open in 2015, complete with “mini theaters” and a screening room for watching movies, of course.