A panel of experts at the 2013 International Society of Hospitality Consultants conference in Panama last week said the distinction between a branded hotel and an independent property continues to fade amid the increasing popularity of the soft-branding concept. The experts said the strongest differentiator is usually the property's target demographic. "The hard-branded hotels try to have a very defined customer base. They work hard at it. The softer brands work hard at appealing to a wider base, and the independent appeals to an even wider base, demographically and psychologically," said Bruce Baltin, a senior vice president at PKF Consulting.