What are Boutique Hotels?

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Hotels have existed since the beginning of time, but have evolved greatly alongside the development of society and the way we live, travel, and exist in our lives. The hotel can be roughly described as an establishment that provides paid lodging on a short term basis. On the other hand, boutique hotels attempt to differentiate themselves while hotels have become more and more comparable. In addition, there is a level of uniformity across the world with global agencies, airplane and car hire companies, and the private holiday maker following well-worn tourism trails. During the last 20 years, the hotel industry has seen a massive change with the popularity of boutique hotels. Boutique hotels have become a popular alternative to your standard hotel. A definition is hard to come by but it is said that you would know one when you stayed in one. This is most likely because the definition is perceived by the consumer and it should be, as the boutique hotel is an independent upmarket hotel. In addition to offering superb quality at competitive pricing. This is what differentiates boutique hotels from the rest of the competition. Due to the quality and high standards, it will feel as if the customer has paid to stay in a 5-star hotel for a slightly lower price. This is always a bonus when you are trying to get the most value for your money. This, of course, is in stark contrast to the more common hotel chains whose image and prices have stayed the same throughout the last few decades. This lack of contrast has led to a requirement from consumers seeking more choice and, more importantly, a minimum level of ‘comfort’. With so many choices across the market today, the one a consumer feels most comfortable in, represents best value and provides a unique experience will stand out. This hotel will be a one of a kind boutique hotel.

Definition of Boutique Hotels

Boutique hotels are small, unique hotels often found in city, town, or village settings. They are different in style from other hotels, usually having a strong historical theme, and offer a high level of luxury and service. Usually, boutique hotels are furnished in a themed, stylish, and aspirational manner. The first boutique hotels appeared in the early 1980s, created by entrepreneur Ian Schrager (co-owner of Studio 54) and London-based designer Anouska Hempel. There are no set rules on what can be defined as a boutique hotel, and individuality can be a key factor. Often, boutique hotels are so individual that they have been created with a specific type of clientele in mind. A boutique hotel can also be defined (in terms of a marketing angle) as a hotel that is either unable to be mass-produced or in which the production is limited and the market is price-sensitive, though with a high paying to customer ratio. Wien, in his publication “Boutique Hotels: the new frontiers of hospitality,” classifies boutique hotels as having 10-100 rooms. This, in itself, can lead to a stronger connection between guests and a higher per guest room rate, which in turn lends well to the provision of high-quality personalized services.

Characteristics of Boutique Hotels

Overall, the boutique concept is an attempt to return to an older style of hospitality, when guests were treated as individuals. This is achieved through creating unique and intimate settings, and providing a high level of service.

A final differentiating factor can be the overall purpose of the hotel. Oftentimes, a large chain hotel is simply a place to spend the night and nothing more. This can be fine for a business trip, but when traveling for leisure a guest is seeking an enriching experience. A small hotel can offer more activities relative to its size such as wine tastings, cooking classes or specialized tours. These will also help further the guests’ understanding of the local culture.

Another difference can be the hotel’s attempt to be trendier and more cutting edge. These hotels are usually trying to break the mold and provide something different. Offering a unique experience in hopes of attracting a certain demographic. This can often be seen on the west coast of the U.S and in countries such as Japan. Many of these hotels strive to be “hip” and are targeted at a younger, more urban demographic. These hotels will be more daring than the traditional white glove resorts.

One of the best parts of traveling is learning about the local culture. The design of the hotel and its architecture can greatly influence this experience. A boutique hotel will usually adopt a design based around the local culture. This can be seen through much of the Caribbean, Asia and South America where many of the hotels have been extensively renovated old homes or colonial buildings. These buildings give the hotel a more authentic local feel. Oftentimes this is done in a luxurious and tasteful manner. The hotel may choose to utilize local craftsmen for much of the work. An association with local culture is also provided through the hotel’s use of regional cuisine. Many chain hotels utilize international themes on their menus which can lead to a watering down of a country’s traditional culinary experience. This will also provide the guest with a more authentic cultural experience.

Size is the first difference as large chain operations are able to build from 300 to 1000 or more rooms. Boutique hotels are generally much smaller, and range in size from 3 to 100 rooms. This creates a more intimate setting, and enables the hotel to provide a higher level of service. A smaller ratio of guests to staff allows for staff members to spend more time with each guest and satisfy their needs to a higher degree. This translates into a highly personalized service throughout the hotel. Many large chain hotels have far too many guests to get to know them all on a personal basis. This can lead to a less satisfying overall experience.

History of Boutique Hotels

These hotels initially surfaced in the early 1980s. Soho in New York is one of the first places to be associated with this new wave of accommodation with the Crosby Street Hotel being considered as the leaders of the boutique hotel lobby. The Crosby Street Hotel is owned by Kit and Tim Kemp who also own the Firmdale Group which is a company solely designed around boutique hotels. The goal of this new hotel was to set a new trend within the hotel industry by focusing on creating an exciting and enjoyable retreat for all guests. These boutiques were neither modern nor traditional in their design but combined the two to create a cutting-edge style. The firm also made a huge emphasis on technology being used in each room and an integration of artwork in the hotel’s design. The Pavilion and The Morgan were also among the first few boutique hotels to become popular in the city of New York. Both of these hotels have a rich history in New York and have continued to maintain a high status among travelers. The surge of interest in the boutique hotel industry has primarily stemmed from travelers looking for something different than the typical hotel experience. Boutique hotels were able to provide this through their individualized services and creating a unique space in the city. This set a new trend for hotel developers as they looked to move away from building chain hotels in order to recreate this same experience for all travelers. Now in the modern day, having a nice hotel room is looked at as a given for most people when traveling – from having a comfortable place to sleep, to having a large TV, fast WIFI, and an en suite. But back in the 1980s when the first boutique hotels started to open, this was not the case. The lack of technology in standard hotel rooms combined with overpriced room service and only having a bar or restaurant to socialize in at the hotel made travelers want to find alternative accommodations. This would then provide the chance for more cash-rich, time-poor customers to test the new add-ons within the boutique hotels.

Origins of Boutique Hotels

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the term ’boutique hotel’ began being used in public and popular culture. This is due largely to the successful creation and marketing of boutique hotels as a lifestyle. The creation of a global marketing group, The Boutique Hotels & Resorts International, provided a platform for these hotels to take part in tactical and cohesive marketing. This allowed the boutique hotel industry to break free of the previous economic constraints of price and location and move into the luxury market.

Following a decline of the U.S. and British middle-class beach holiday after 1950, the rapid growth of package holidays from the late 70s onwards led to an increased demand for upmarket hotel accommodation in the Mediterranean and other luxury holiday destinations. The origins of boutique hotels, a term from the French language meaning ‘inn’, is seen to be in the 1980s in the U.S. In a 1984 Conde Nast Traveler article, one of the first published descriptions of a boutique hotel appears to be that of the St. John’s Hotel in New York which refers to as “home away from home”. This was followed by Estee Lauder calling Blakes Hotel in London “the ultimate home away from home” which was created by designer Anouska Hempel and is the first boutique hotel to be decorated in a particular theme. This influences later boutique hotels around the globe. In the mid-80s, the first purpose-built boutique hotels, The Mercer Hotel in New York and The Westbury Hotel in London, were both designed with a clear artistic design.

Evolution of Boutique Hotels

There are numerous views as to when the boutique hotel was established, and on the whole, the time period could range from the early 1980s to the latter part of the 1990s. The reason for this gap in dates is due to the different views on when the boutique hotel was truly established and when it was simply just an independent hotel trying a new marketing tactic. It is understood that a considerable amount of boutique hotels were, in fact, around during the 1980s but were unable to develop the product due to limitations in technology, etc. and it was not until the widespread coverage of the internet on a global scale in the late 1990s where up and coming boutique hotels were able to market their product effectively to a wider audience. This then led to a large growth in the industry and a significant increase in the number of boutique hotels being developed around the world. During the 1980s and the early part of the 1990s, most independent hotels’ attempt at the boutique product was merely just a marketing ploy. The hotels were actually targeting business and aiming to create boutique imagery for corporate guests, while retaining an establishment of products aimed at groups and conventions. These hotels were very much still an identity of the establishment brands.

Unique Features of Boutique Hotels

Atmosphere is often one of the most important factors in setting a boutique hotel apart from the competition. An intimate atmosphere is why some people would rather stay at a small bed and breakfast as opposed to a large hotel. There is a stronger feeling of comfort and security in a smaller hotel. It is less intimidating and more welcoming to a lot of people. Any hotel that wishes to be labeled with the term “boutique” should strive to be somewhere around the three to fifty room mark. Quantity of rooms and the quality of service have an inverse relationship that places services at a higher level in smaller establishments. A similar relationship exists between a hotel’s atmosphere and its affordability.

Stylish and individualized design extends to every aspect of a boutique hotel. Each individual hotel attempts to be unique from the next, incorporating various aspects of the culture, history, and traditions of the area it is located in. The hotel will reflect these attributes in the design and layout. Often, the services of a well-known artist or architect are secured to add an extra element of creativity to the project. This too is an important element in setting a boutique hotel apart from the run-of-the-mill franchise.

Personalized service is paramount to boutique hotels. Most offer a dedicated concierge service, creating a strong relationship with their customers. The concierge helps customers with various tasks, from organizing a variety of activities to getting tickets for special events to making reservations at bars and trendy restaurants. The more familiar the concierge is with the area, the more effective and enjoyable your stay will be. This is an excellent perk, allowing customers to save time and still experience all that the destination they are visiting has to offer.

Personalized Service

Personalized service is the cornerstone of the boutique hotel. Many of these hotels were founded by people who traveled the world and wanted to bring a different style of accommodation to their homelands, one that focused on the individual. Room sizes are often different, there are often only a few rooms, no two are alike in the same property, and the sense of a personal touch can be felt right down to the décor. This unequalled atmosphere can often be best observed in the hotels’ lobbies, where it is common to find a mix of eclectic furniture, artwork, and fittings. The same sense of individuality can be said for the service. Because the hotel is smaller, it is possible to pick up on the preferences of guests, and often the next time they stay there will be a small gift or note that shows their host’s genuine appreciation of their business. A good example of this is finding out that a guest likes a type of food and having it brought in from a quality restaurant, something that would be near impossible in a large chain hotel. Another way in which the boutique hotel aims to personalize service is by cutting out the often impersonal nature of the larger hotel chains. This can be in the form of learning meaningful information about guests during their stay and acting upon it the next time they stay, or it can be simply remembering a guest’s name and their conversations with staff. This type of service often makes the guest feel that they are not just another faceless customer in a huge crowd and enhances the sense of comfort and belonging. Overall, the personalized service goal of the boutique hotel is often a highly valued feature, and it is therefore a priority to exceed, and not just meet, guest expectations.

Stylish and Individualized Design

Simply, every bit of decoration or piece of furniture is hand-selected, if not custom made. The stylish character of the hotel needs to be shown through quality not quantity. The uniqueness and effectiveness of the design is impeccable.

Furthermore, well-known interior designers and architects are appointed to design boutique hotels. The designer usually works closely with the hotel owner to ensure that every aspect of the project is brought to life. This involvement is important because at times trying to convey the idea of the hotel owner’s mind can be a difficult task. The outcome is usually a creative experience that’s unique yet comfortable and functional. Oftentimes the guests who take a liking to the environment end up photographing the hotel in hopes to replicate a similar atmosphere back home.

The designing of the hotel rooms and public areas carries the most weight when setting out to create an individualist boutique hotel. The overall goal is to create an environment that’s enticing, comforting, unique, and aesthetically pleasing. The use of vibrant colors and trendy furniture of interior designs often used in the hotels helps to improve the mood of guests traveling within the country. Some nationalities have elegant or fun taste while other tourist travelers might have professional tastes or mood, boutique hotels want to satisfy all guests. Normally, the hotels are built to draw visitors within a particular market therefore it is wise to build a harmonious environment around a hotel’s neighboring atmosphere.

Intimate and Exclusive Atmosphere

Menlove describes that intimacy is not only about the small size but also about the friendly atmosphere that a small place often has. “The atmosphere is friendly and cozy. The only place that opens until midnight.” The friendly and cozy atmosphere ensures that guests feel like they are staying at home. Many boutique hotels also have a homey atmosphere, so guests will feel less hesitant to do something. Using a large old house for a hotel, many boutique hotels have a strict policy to only accept guests above 12 years old. This is because sometimes parents are looking for a peaceful place to stay and don’t want to be disturbed by kids. This policy ensures that the hotel is quiet from children’s chatter. This policy also often means that the hotel is not really suitable for families with small children, so guests don’t have to worry about the environment being too noisy. Many boutique hotels use non-spoken suggestions to make the hotel exclusive, such as using a certain type of music, from jazz to classical. Some hotels also use fragranced oils in the rooms and hotel lobby. An exclusive thing usually offered by hotels is wine, as guests can enjoy the exclusive atmosphere while sipping a drink. For example, Burlington Hotel Victoria serves a complimentary glass of wine during happy hours in the lobby.

Benefits of Staying in a Boutique Hotel

Authentic local experiences. Boutique hotels are often rooted in a deep sense of the community, providing visitors with an opportunity to see the local world from the eyes of a resident. With the culture of the surrounding neighborhood being reflected in a boutique hotel’s décor, staff, and overall atmosphere, added local knowledge will help guests to have a truly wonderful experience. It is not uncommon for boutiques to partner with local businesses so as to provide guests with a truly immersive experience. Recently, the luxurious boutique, Andronis, in Oia Santorini, revealed a once-in-a-lifetime package which teamed up with a local boat company and gave guests exclusive access to Santa Marina, a private beach usually open only to residents. Unique amenities and services can be found in many different forms in various boutique properties. Custom design or antique furniture are not uncommon in boutiques, ranging from the 27 individually themed rooms of the Kolbe Hotel in Rome to the 362 rooms at the Ritz Paris. Oftentimes, it’s the peculiar but highly valued services that are truly unique – anything from a rooftop bee colony at the Waldorf Astoria to the lighthearted rubber duck races hosted by the Kimpton Hotel chain. These kinds of additions add further intrigue for a guest and make a boutique hotel stay that much more memorable.

Authentic Local Experiences

Guests at a boutique hotel can enjoy an international atmosphere that is stylish and cutting edge. Yet, contrary to staying in a standardized hotel chain that just mimics the style and philosophy, you can really experience the locality of your destination. Often located centrally in the hub of the city, the locale itself of the hotel can give you the taste of the local culture, markets and people, whilst the style of the hotel will reflect the traditions of the past. While offering true value with its location, the ambiance and visual experience of the building or setting can never be replicated and is of a truly unique design. The hotel might be a heritage building, a modern building that has been designed to blend in with old architectural styles, or simply genuinely constructed in a way that’s fitting to the culture. Boutique hotels have an interior that is an excellent reflection of the local design and creativity. Unlike hotel chains, they would never have replicated art and design from one location to another, and often the interior is a showcase of the work of local artisans and craftspeople. This in itself is a unique feature – offering hotel guests an experience in an environment of design quality that they may seek to replicate in their own home.

Attention to Detail

Boutique hotels pay attention to details in every aspect of the hotel. We know of one hotel where they had booked a weekend’s worth of entertainment for the guests. Each weekend had a different theme, such as romantic 50’s, English tea and so on. The detail in the hotel extends to the guest room. Upon entering the room, the guests would find their bed turned down and a special gift relating to the weekend’s theme, waiting on the pillow. White bath robes, slippers, and high-quality toiletries provided are also part of the attention to detail package. The small number of rooms in a boutique hotel allows them to really perfect their service. If you are a regular guest at a boutique hotel, upon arrival, you would be received by the same person each time. Unique to their style, they remember their guests. In the larger chain hotels, they would quickly train a person to be proficient at customer service, requiring them to address you by your last name, but in the following encounters, it is very evident that a different staff member is addressing you. This could simply be because they have you confused with another guest. With the same person greeting you at the hotel on every visit, they are familiar with your wants and needs and how you would like things done.

Unique Amenities and Services

As has been mentioned previously, many boutique hotels are located in city centres, prime locations which are within walking distance to great attractions, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. What better way to explore the local culture your holiday destination has to offer than by checking out the spots recommended by the locals and finding out for yourself the best places to go, eat, and have fun. Typically, the staff at boutique hotels have extensive knowledge of the area and are great guides on places to check out. If you are the type of person who prefers to wander around and explore rather than taking a predetermined trip, staying in a boutique hotel in a city is an ideal option.

A good thing about staying in a boutique hotel is the way they usually focus on creating a unique atmosphere for their guests, typically an intimate setting with great attention to provide a comfortable stay. This dedication to creating a distinctive environment that provides a “home-like” feel, as opposed to a cookie cutter one, frequently helps boutique hotels to stand out from regular chain hotels. Unlike lots of chain hotels that target guests looking for a place to stay the night, who have no need for anything more than a comfortable room, boutique hotels know who they are specifically trying to cater to and often make great efforts to make sure that their guests will not want for anything. It is the attention to guests that produces a level of service much higher than that experienced in many other hotels.