The Boutique Bandwagon
PHOTO: Best Western has gotten into the boutique business with their Vib brand.
Boutique hotels have been around for decades, but until recently most were run by independent companies.
As the number of boutique brands continues to surge, the definition of a boutique hotel has become somewhat fluid. In its purest sense, a boutique hotel is simply a small property with no more than 300 guestrooms, according to The Highland Group, a global business-consulting firm.
But boutique properties are more than just small. They are also “lifestyle” hotels, which offer richer experiences than limited-service brands, many of which also consist of smaller properties.
Some boutique lifestyle brands, like Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, which was acquired by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) last year, and Marriott’s Edition Hotels, are full-service; others are “select-service.”
While select-service properties don’t offer the full menu of amenities, like room service and a concierge, most offer food-and-beverage options, including grab-and-go items, evening tapas or full-service restaurants. Select-service properties also tend to offer fitness facilities. And in many cases, any staff member can make suggestions about local attractions and activities based on guests’ interests.
In fact, local vibe is a trend among several brands, such as Tryp by Wyndham, Tru by Hilton, Canopy by Hilton, Carlson Rezidor’s Radisson Red, and IHG’s Hotel Indigo, which showcase local art and cuisine at their properties.
Boutique lifestyle properties also are design-centric. Although some are in refurbished historic buildings, many have contemporary designs; in some cases, each property in the brand portfolio is individually designed. One brand, Accor’s Mama Shelter, was designed in collaboration with noted hotel designer Philippe Starck.
In many cases, lobbies in these properties are social hubs – often with names like The Hive (Tru by Hilton) and The Corner (Hyatt Centric) – that provide flexible spaces where guests can meet with friends, have a cocktail or latte and use the hotel’s free Wi-Fi.
READ MORE: The World's 10 Best Boutique Hotels
Free Wi-Fi, as well as handles on several social media platforms, are hallmarks of boutique lifestyle hotels, especially since some, including Radisson Red and Marriott’s Moxy Hotels, specifically target millennials.
In fact, most of these boutique brands are tech-forward, offering perks like apps for keyless entry, mobile check-in and checkout, and service requests. Some have taken technology even further. For example, Starwood’s Aloft brand features Botlr, a robot that delivers items like extra towels to guestrooms.
Some brands target markets beyond millennials. For its part, Tryp is “very multi-generational,” says Kate Ashton, the brand’s vice president-operations. “Millennials are definitely part of it, but where we’ve had great success is with what we call premium family rooms,” which are large guestrooms with bunk beds.
Different target markets mean different price points. The more established brands, as well as some of the newer brands, are in the luxury category. But midscale and economy boutique brands are growing, as well. “We know that 40 percent of all guest demand in the U.S. is in the economy and midscale segment. They are looking for the basics served up in a new and affordable way,” says Alexandra Jaritz, global head of Tru by Hilton.
In addition to millennials, Tru also attracts “gen-Xers and baby boomers who want to spend their money very wisely and are more interested in experiences than in things,” says Jaritz.
It’s about the “millennial mindset,” says Toni Stoecki, vice president of lifestyle brands for Marriott International. “It’s not really about demographics as much as it’s about psychographics,” he says.
In the view of hotel executives, the surge in the number of boutique brands is to some degree about those psychographics. “Boutique is attractive to consumers who increasingly desire an authentic and personalized experience, as well as to hotel companies and owners looking to diversify their portfolios,” says Angela Xavier, IHG’s vice president, Americas sales.
Adds Stoecki, “It’s really about a very specific experience beyond the functional aspects of a hotel stay – a unique, memorable experience that people want to write home about.”
Although the brands are more experiential, each delivers different experiences. “Our most spirited, youngest, liveliest brand is Moxy,” Stoecki says. “The AC brand is more calm and sophisticated [with] a different type of personality.”
Belonging to major chains also is a sales factor, according to Xavier. “You can leverage existing relationships with your clients, and they will also get the sense of security that comes from booking with a large chain,” she says.
Moreover, clients who are members of those chains’ loyalty programs can earn and use points at those companies’ boutique lifestyle properties.
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A version of this article appears in print in the August 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.
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