Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Shih-Fen Chen


This dissertation analyzes the branding status of international hotels, defined as those that combine software systems offered by foreign managers (e.g., business format, booking network, operation know-how, etc.) with hardware facilities provided by local developers (e.g., land, building, furniture, etc.) to serve travelers. When two specialist firms cooperate to set up an international hotel, they can each compete for the right to brand the software-hardware bundle. It is common to see an international hotel that carries the name of the foreign manager (manager branding), the name of the local developer (developer branding), or the names of both parties (manager/developer co-branding). Significantly, each branding option corresponds to a particular contractual format to coordinate manager-developer cooperation. An international hotel can also be transformed into a company-owned hotel bearing the brand of a single party that imposes hierarchical fiats to direct manager-developer cooperation internally (the fourth option that I call integrated branding).

The rise of international hotels has received attention from scholars who investigate the relative costs of using contract vs. hierarchy to govern manager-developer cooperation across borders. Regardless of the choice of contract vs. hierarchy, however, the focal hotel always bears the brand of the hotel chain and its branding status is irrelevant in the relative efficiency of contract vs. hierarchy. Other scholars also treat franchising as a mechanism for unknown local developers to borrow reputation from established foreign managers, based on the traditional role of branding in attracting customer patronage. This reputation-borrowing view does not consider the governance implications of hotel branding rights, where the right to brand the software-hardware bundle in an international hotel can be reassigned to promote manager-developer cooperation, without altering hotel ownership rights as dictated by the contract vs. hierarchy paradigm.

In this dissertation, I adopt an agency approach to address the above literature gap. More precisely, I propose an agency view on international hotel branding to address two questions that have remained unanswered in prior studies: (1) what are the factors that influence the branding option for an international hotel and (2) what is the implication of each branding option for the room rates of the hotel?

Conceptually, my dissertation isolates the branding rights from the ownership rights to an international hotel to define an agency issue called branding agency, in which the branding party of the manager-developer dyad serves as a principal who is entitled to the reputation residuals of the hotel, but the non-branding party acts as an agent who receives a fee for its contributions to hotel reputation. Reallocations of hotel branding rights realign the incentives of the parties and thereby alter the costs of addressing the branding agency issue. Without resorting to integration, the right to brand a hotel can be reassigned to economize on the agency costs of governing manager-developer cooperation across borders. Once the incentives of the parties are properly aligned, they are self-motivated to invest in the reputation of the hotel, which in turn allows them to charge a premium room rate.

Empirically, I use a sample of 535 international hotels collected from China to verify the agency view of international hotel branding. Specifically, I predict the probability that foreign managers let local developers co-brand a hotel, i.e., the choice of manager branding vs. manager/developer co-branding. My findings reveal that the likelihood of manager branding will be higher if foreign managers contribute more to the reputation of the hotel and are better able to monitor shirking by local developers. The likelihood of manager/developer co-branding will be higher if the opposite holds. Furthermore, the closer the actual branding status of a hotel to its optimal branding status, the higher the premium that the hotel can command compared to other hotels in the same geographic location or in the overall Chinese market. These findings obtained from China are consistent with the agency view on international hotel branding.

To sum up, this dissertation treats international hotel branding as a governance decision that can be manipulated to save on the agency costs of regulating manager-developer cooperation across national borders. My agency view can be extended to all business settings, where the right to brand the joint output of two or even more specialists can be reassigned to facilitate inter-firm cooperation, which I consider a major contribution to organizational economics. This dissertation also contributes to branding practitioners, who can no longer see branding as a tactical decision made at the operational level, but instead must treat it as a strategic decision made at the corporate level. As the first study that defines the governance role of branding, this dissertation also points out several promising directions for future research to advance the agency view on international hotel branding.