Interest in boutique hotels has grown dramatically in recent years as more travelers have become interested in the model, and hoteliers and travel agents have consequently tried to meet the demand.
What once attracted a niche group of travelers has now become popular across demographic scales. So in that sense, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the boutique hotel market to both meet your clients needs and capitalize on new opportunities.
With major brands now getting into the boutique segment joining the existing independent brands, Vacation Agent asked several executives with MGM Resorts International about the boutique hotels market and how agents should sell them. As a major hospitality and entertainment company in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts itself has responded to the interest in boutiques, opening The Delano Las Vegas (pictured above) along with ARIA and Vdara, which the executives describe as boutique properties.
Here’s what the MGM Resorts executives have to say about the boutique hotel market today, along with some selling tips for travel agents.
How should travel agents sell boutique hotels?
Colleen Schmitz, MGM Resorts International director of luxury of sales: Ask clients what’s the purpose of their travel? Is there a certain celebration? Who’s traveling? Is it couples? Multigenerational families? It really goes back to qualifying your clients to be able to choose the right type of boutique hotel Are they looking for a full-service boutique hotel or are they looking for something where they can be a little more under the radar?
Stephanie Glanzer, vice president of sales for Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and Delano Las Vegas: I think that the advantages of the boutique-style hotel is their more personalized customer service, more specialized amenities and access to an escape [in Las Vegas[ from the excitement of the city and the casinos to a retreat. Everything is consolidated within a small space.
Jason Glascock, assistant director of sales at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and Delano Las Vegas: Where we see the most positive feedback from customers is not getting lost. It’s that comfort level when it’s not too overwhelming for people when they walk in the doors. It’s a home away from home.
What are some “dos” and “don’ts” when selling boutique hotels?
Glanzer: One big misperception is that boutique hotels have a smaller staff and don’t have training and the service standards that a normal hotel has. And that is actually not true at all. It’s actually quite the reverse. That’s something I’d make sure a travel agent is stressing. For the most part, boutique hotels usually are upscale, personalized and customized.
Schmitz: Understand things as simple as location — how close to the city center it is— and [preference for] smoking and non-smoking. The majority of our hotels here in Las Vegas now are going toward non-smoking. So, all of a sudden, smoking rooms are becoming the request. Also, I know a lot of hotels are pet-friendly like Vdara Hotel & Spa and Delano Las Vegas.
I think assumptions shouldn’t be made. I don’t think there’s an industry standard of what a boutique hotel really is, defined by numbers of rooms or suites or services. We have ARIA Sky Suites with 400 rooms. At Vdara, we have 1,100 suites, but the footprint is fairly small.
If I was asked at the beginning of my career what a boutique hotel was, I probably would have said 50 rooms, something more intimate, one restaurant at best. Now, even for Las Vegas, there’s some differentiation to what boutique hotels are.
What makes selling boutique hotels different from selling other types of hotels?
Schmitz: Boutique hotels have a little more of an advantage in that they have a smaller footprint so it’s easier to manage whatever the expectations are. They can be a bit more customizable.
Glanzer: Because of the size of the hotel, every department works very, very closely in a boutique-style hotel. It’s a smaller environment and I think that selling that is all about personal experiences and customer service. Boutique hotels offer experiences, whether it’s music, whether it’s a performer or whether it’s food and beverage.
Glascock: It’s just kind of fun walking into a boutique hotel because it’s ‘nichey.’ There are little things along the way that you look at and say, “Oh, wow, that’s kinda cool. That’s fun.” They kind of catch you on the way. They tend to change, too, throughout the day. There’s a morning feeling versus an afternoon feeling. You know, the lights change, the sounds change, it’s all about the environment and how we’re directing it. We just want to make sure when guests are here, they experience it all.
Is there still a certain target audience for boutique hotels, or are boutique hotels mainstream enough now for most travelers?
Schmitz: I don’t know if there’s a specific market segment because boutique hotels can draw a lot of varieties of traveler. You know I heard someone say, “Boutique hotels really aren’t a draw for millennials.” And I said, “No, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.” Because I know a lot of millennials who want a smaller footprint, and the boutique hotels that they stayed at are more off the beaten path because they want a more localized experience.
Glascock: I think it kind of depends on the boutique hotel. For some, their niche is to get the young, high-energy crowd. Delano Las Vegas, for example, is not so much like that. It’s more for the guest who is looking to stay at a hotel that is a home away from home, is nice and exciting, but you don’t necessarily need to be considered the party crowd.
What does the boutique hotel trend say about the direction in which guest demand is going?
Schmitz: I think boutique hotels previously marketed on their own. Now, there are more third-party companies like Small Luxury Hotels of the World. I think the boutique hotel owner has more opportunity to reach more travelers and travel professionals globally, whereas before it was much more grassroots, much more word-of-mouth.
Also, now, the Internet and social media really have spurred them on.
Glascock: I can say that the last few hotels that have been built in Las Vegas — Delano Las Vegas, SLS Las Vegas and Nobu Hotel — all have that boutique feel. Really, Vegas hasn’t added any megaresorts. They’ve just converted to the boutique-feeling hotels.
Glanzer: It really is all types of guests now who want those experiences. It’s families, it’s young, it’s old. It’s all demographics. Whether it’s for vacation, for business, whether it’s for a quick stay, a long stay, we see all types of demographics.
What else do you think travel agents should know about this market?
Schmitz: I think travel agents — the ones I’ve been speaking to — have become these travel professionals of different trades. They’ve become semi-meeting planners, they’ve become semi-leisure travel agents, they’ve become semi-corporate travel agents. What I’m finding is that travel professionals are really fine tuning. They’re (choosing to) have fewer clients, but they’re doing more for their clients.
If you have a fantastic client, you develop this relationship with the client. From a marketing perspective, you already know each other, and it’s easier to retain a loyal customer than it is to go and find a new one. I know a lot of travel professionals that are now handling the travel of clients’ children. It’s really exciting to have that kind of longevity.
They’re finding that rather than being all things to all people that it’s better to be much more detail-oriented and customized and personal with a smaller group. We see a lot more independent travel professionals who are charging fees and going to a model almost like a membership. If you want access to (them) for 24 hours, then you pay a retainer of sorts.
It’s a really interesting time to be in travel, to be honest. You just see so many different evolutions. You think of fine hotels being traditional, more conservative, the five-star, five-diamond type of experience, but they too are trying to grow different generations into their brand.
So, we find that you definitely want to evolve, but you don’t want to evolve too quickly because you don’t want to leave a customer base behind either. At Delano Las Vegas, we wanted to encompass what Delano South Beach offers, but we still wanted to be true to who we are. It’s a very fine balance.
Glanzer: What does sell Delano is the perception that you get lost in large hotels. You can escape and retreat in your own small environment, but then you also have the quick access to the restaurants, the casinos, the Strip.