Are Boutique Hotels Becoming Mainstream?

08/20/2019 2:54 PM | Cinnamon Thompson (Administrator)

For the month of August, SCDF hosted a panel event focused on a niche concept, seemingly losing its exclusivity – boutique hotels. The discussion was led by some of the industry’s leaders, all of whom work in various executive positions of the hospitality development sector. The event itself was heavily attended by hospitality development professionals from all sectors. The panel was moderated by Bruce Baltin, managing director, CBRE Hotels Advisory. Baltin has experience across the hospitality and tourism industries including market demand studies, valuations, leases, franchising and more. The breadth of his experience encompasses properties located in large resorts, restaurants, theme parks, and national and state parks.

Panelists included: Ryan Bean, director of development for Sydell Group, a creator and manager of unique hotels with a special connection to their location and design. Bean’s portfolio includes NoMad, The LINE, Freehand and the Saguaros. Prior to Sydell Group, he spent five years as director of development for New Urban West, a residential and mixed-use urban infill builder. Amie Marben, director of development, Relevant Group, also joined the panel. Amie brings over 15 years of experience in hospitality design and development to Relevant Group’s development and construction teams. Some of Relevant Group’s most notable area projects include, Dream Hollywood, Thompson Hollywood, and Hotel Barclay. Margaux Rotter, also VP of development at BLVD Hospitality joined the panel. Rotter’s experience in hospitality development began while working on the construction team at ACE Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Other projects by BLVD include: Soho Warehouse, Hoxton Hotel, and CitizenM.

Maintaining Exclusivity

Ryan Bean began the conversation by stating that “we aren’t necessarily seeing boutique hotels becoming mainstream, but they are becoming more popular.” The rise of technology and social media has created a significantly more accessibility to information about places, things and concepts that were once considered niche or had some air of exclusivity, boutique hotels are just one example. Bean notes that when the boutique concept began in the 1980’s, it was largely unknown to the everyday traveler. Now, guests are more discerning in general and that is simply the way the market has gone, again, boutique hotels are just one of many examples of this trend. Boutique brands have become so popular, they are even popping up in some secondary, suburban markets. However, this doesn’t mean that the boutique concept is necessarily allowed to become “less boutique” in the midst of greater demand. Amie Marben notes that while the demand has grown, the challenge for developers and designers has shifted slightly. “A lot of what we do now involves how you keep that exclusivity and intrigue for the guest,” she said. All panelists agreed that while maintaining intrigue was a key concept related to keeping boutique hotels true to their form, a lot of this has to do with the placement of the hotel. Location is paramount in attracting the target market.

Location and Form

All panelists agreed that while boutique brands are popping up everywhere in terms of the type of submarket, a true boutique hotel tends to be urban. “We generally see these in more hip, or up-and-coming areas where our target market is likely to congregate,” said Margaux Rotter. The target market tends to be those who are design conscious and fashion forward. She went on to elaborate that the location is also important in giving guests a sense of locality. The boutique hotel guest tends to be a bit more discerning and will want to experience an authentic slice of the city in which they are staying. Local design, nature, shops, and restaurants all play heavily into the site selection and guest experience of a boutique hotel. As for the design, all panelists agreed that a key characteristic is that it “has a story to tell, it has a soul.”

A lot of this “story and soul” is directly attributed to the aesthetics of the establishment. Generally, the guest rooms vary in their look, they are not uniform. Also, common areas tend to either be exquisite in design, or not exist at all. Boutique hotels with minimal to no common areas and limited amenities have come to be known as “select brands” and they cater more to crowds who intend on spending very little time in their hotel rooms. Other types of boutique brands include “soft brands,” which are essentially boutique hotels under the name of a chain. Soft brands can give some consumers the sense of security and familiarity of staying at a well-known and credible chain. However, the soft brands tend to be more individualistic, which is a direct result of their ability to be more liberal and unique with design standards. The design principles of boutique hotels have also caught on to traditional (not soft branded) chain hotel establishments, as they are increasingly open to considering design shifts. Although, soft brands, in a way, provide a certain consumer with the feeling they are getting “the best of both worlds.” Still, the chain establishments will inevitably have their corporate image and standards to maintain, part of what sets them so far apart from the boutique brands they have been competing with. With a rise in boutique hotels happening everywhere, even within chain hotels, we may see the whole industry shift, at least from a design standard.   


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