Cool in their design and warm in their service, boutique hotels are anything but ordinary in their offering to business travellers.
Individual in every sense, these properties are ideal for those who like their stay to be an experience rather than just a bed for the night.
A destination by design
In the fast-paced world of business travel, the boutique hotel has found its place. Around the corner and down the road from the conservative and uniform approach of chain hotels, the boutique hotel sits proudly with its own bold signature. A place to engage with the local culture, a place to celebrate style, and a place to enjoy memorable experiences.
In technical terms, the boutique hotel could be defined as having less than 50 rooms, however there are many larger independent properties that offer an intimate atmosphere and service.
So what is it that characterises the true boutique hotel?
Individuality is the hallmark. Every property is one of a kind with unique design and flair. Distinctive, chic and even quirky, these properties can be charming historical buildings or new-build properties influenced by the local history, culture and art. Character pervades not only the external facade but also the locally-oriented furnishings, artwork, social spaces, and dining. Staff are genuine and attentive, service is customised to each guest, and the focus is on creating a stay with a difference.
Boutique hotels gained traction during the mid 1980s in New York, influenced by the popular culture and modern lifestyle of the city’s infamous Studio 54 nightclub. Following the success of a few properties, New York was soon home to other boutique hotels where the lobbies became a social space for guests and local residents alike.
This new breed of hotels espoused the groundbreaking concept of ‘cheap chic’ – affordable luxury in a stylish and sophisticated environment. Private hotel owner-operators dominated the boutique scene for several years before the larger chains started to introduce their own ‘lifestyle hotels’.
Who feels the attraction?
The boutique and lifestyle hotel market is hardly confined to just one niche market segment. Offering competitive room rates, these properties are popular with clients ranging from seasoned executive travellers to young jetsetters. Guests include business people and smaller corporate groups from all industries, plus the odd celebrity looking for discretion and one-to-one service.
Why do business travellers choose boutique?
Boutique hotels offer business people a more engaging stay. While a convenient location is one of the main reasons companies choose to book boutique properties for their travellers, other key drivers include the following:
1. Service – a true boutique property offers personalised and sophisticated service with attention to detail. Hotel staff make the extra effort to know their guests and understand their needs in advance so they are never left waiting.
According to Bénédicte Quoniam, Senior Sales Manager at the Hotel Pont Royal in Paris (Affiliated Worldhotels Deluxe collection), providing special attention to guests is the defining feature of the boutique hotel. “Our personalised service allows us to connect with each guest, who often return for business, plus leisure trips accompanied by their partners or families. We are also seeing increased demand from these guests for specific rooms or views, and for extended concierge desk services.”
2. Atmosphere – while many boutique hotels are historical buildings with sensitivity to the original structure and materials used, even the new properties exude character through innovative design that is reflective of local culture. This atmosphere comes not only from decor, ambience and theming, but also the professional warm and welcoming disposition among staff.
3. Affordable style – boutique hotels are chic and luxurious yet competitively priced in the market, with rates often more flexible than at standard hotels. Lobbies and cocktail bars can be relaxed and intimate or hip and happening, accentuated with striking artwork and emotive music. Rooms often feature designer or locally crafted furniture and equipment with the latest in gadgets ranging from in-house iPods to funky espresso machines.
4. Bespoke – everything about a boutique property is individual. The true boutique hotel strives to break away from the standard and create its own identity. Some properties partner with acclaimed local chefs, bartenders and disc jockeys.
Others offer themed rooms for guests, top-line or exclusive locally made bathroom amenities, or environmental sustainability for the eco-conscious traveller.
5. Exclusivity – private clubs, guest-only programs and special guest promotions are among the benefits offered to travellers. Exclusivity goes hand-in-hand with the personalised nature of service, in which guests may be able to request specially made meals or other items specific to their individual preferences.
6. Company and traveller specific needs – in some cases, corporate travel managers are booking boutique properties to suit the roles and tastes of their travelling employees. Cutting edge industries are choosing to book boutique hotels for their designers and buyers, who are often inspired by their surrounds and have a better appreciation for this style of accommodation.
Sophie Jacou, Director of Sales for Hôtel de Sers in Paris (Worldhotels Deluxe collection), says large companies are starting to look more closely at boutique properties for their VIPs and CEOs.
Profile of some key players
Beckie Mitchell, Digital Marketing Executive, Art Series Hotels in Melbourne, Australia, says the boutique experience is more customisable due to the smaller nature of the property. “Every Art Series Hotel is different and offers a unique experience. Our guests like to feel their stay is special, so we offer services tailored to this,” she says.
Beckie says they can inject more fun into marketing and often trial non-traditional marketing practices. “In 2011 we bought an artwork by world famous street artist, Banksy, hung it in the hotels and asked our guests to steal it. The campaign, called Steal Banksy, was an international success! It was both our connection to the arts and our ability to make decisions quickly and bravely that allowed us to pull off such a popular campaign.”
In North America, Kimpton is the largest and most recognised boutique hotel management company with 40 years in the business and 58 hotels in its collection. A distinctive feature of the group is that every property has a first name identifying the hotel in a fun way, but has Kimpton incorporated as its last name – like a surname that ties it to a family. Ink48 – a Kimpton Hotel (NYC) and The Hotel Wilshire – a Kimpton Hotel (Los Angeles) are just some of the names that make these properties very individual.
Yvonne Ruppert-Gordon, Director Travel Industry Sales for Kimpton, says the group recently rolled out the concept of ‘living like a local’, where travellers can learn something new about the city they are visiting. “One way we encourage this concept is at our Evening Wine Hour where we showcase local wineries or breweries,” she said.
Just as it has done since the 1980s, the boutique hotel sector is expected to further expand in the years to come.
With more business travellers appreciating the benefits they provide, the volume and quality of boutique properties is set to increase worldwide.
Kimpton believes both business and leisure demand for boutique hotels will continue to grow, and in 2012 added eight new hotels including new build and acquired properties, with more planned to open in 2013.
Key trends we are likely to experience over the next few years include the following:
Individuality – with more property owners bringing their personal vision and creativity to hotel design, the boutique sector will continue to differentiate itself even further from the larger chains. Guests will find more relaxed social spaces in the hotel where they can meet with other guests or invite friends who live locally to join them for a drink or a meal. More hotels will make special offers to local residents to experience and enjoy these spaces.
Guest feedback – boutique property owners have been good at listening to what their guests say, particularly through social media. More will actively encourage their guests to share their experiences online and where feasible, will make improvements quickly and easily using feedback and ideas.
Creative marketing – boutique hotels that are savvy with their marketing and flexible in their approach, will go well beyond just offering a competitive room rate. Promotions and packages will be given a creative edge to generate publicity and bookings. Special deals with art galleries, wineries, restaurants, museums and other local places of cultural interest will be offered not only to their guests but also local residents.