What exactly is a boutique hotel?

- The Kiwi Insiders, The Kiwi Insiders team are a collection of industry professionals that contribute to the Kiwi JetSetter from time to time, sharing their experiences with our JetSetter community.

Tony Cohen is President and CEO of Global Edge Investments, based in Toronto, he is an investor in Hotel Le Germain in that city. Now, with Freed Developments Ltd, he is building what will be the sensational Thompson Toronto in the King Street West area- a few minutes’ walk from both the city business district and the direct ferry to Toronto City Centre Airport. The 102-room hotel, which will be integral with 336 residential condominiums, is being designed by Architects Alliance and Studio Gaia (of W Hotel Mexico fame). Thompson Toronto will open Fall 2009.

There is honestly no one definition of boutique hotel, says Tony Cohen. What do we mean, in fact, by calling a hotel boutique, lifestyle, or luxury? Some say they can be big, others argue they cannot.

Some say there can be no more than one; others think there can be a chain. But, whatever, there is, apart from the name, two key elements are found in the description of every great boutique hotel in the world: they are different from the hotel ‘norm’ and they offer specialized personal service and amenities.

Boutique hotels are certainly different from conventional “cookie-cutter” hotels. They are deliberately designed to stand out. Unique qualities may come in the form of service, amenities, décor/style – or a combination of all three elements, though more often than not it is the décor/style that sets a boutique apart from a non-boutique. Layout, color schemes, lighting, furniture and bar-entertainment areas are different from the more traditional hotels. Other personal amenities that complete the overall experience may include complimentary branded bottled water, high thread-count sheets designed specifically for the hotel and one-off food packaging with high end retailers (i.e. Dean & Deluca or local purveyors) as well as such unique bathroom products as Aveda, Get Fresh or Kiehl’s. Many of these hotels even sell their one-of-a-kind beds, linen, art, stemware and even furniture (to name a few items) through a virtual boutique, thereby continuing the experience of the hotel when guests return home.

Hotel guests are ideally made to feel as though they are the only people in-house or at the very least are paid attention to when needed but not too overwhelming when privacy is desired. Personal service may be outstanding in many ways; by recognition of a guest by name, by interesting amenities – if you are a single traveler, you might share your room with a goldfish in a bowl at some of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco hotels – or by stocking a bedroom with specific amenities that a guest used on the last visit. Or, as is the case at Hotel Le Germain in Toronto, regular guests may leave their toiletries and dirty laundry and upon return their clean clothes and personal effects are waiting in their new room.

Atmosphere and ambience also greatly contribute to what makes a hotel a boutique. High-tech accessibility is a must, as the boutique regular guest demands the latest connectivity, but the paraphernalia should be available in a non high-tech setting; they must be functional yet subtle. Similarly, fitness facilities further help to define a boutique hotel. Many Thompson Hotels properties have rooftop pools, with surrounding bars. Food and beverage facilities, indeed, often include a signature restaurant or bar, in many cases leased to a third party that has a track record and cater to a “jet set” or “hip” crowd. Highly successful examples include the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill in Thompson Hotels’ 6 Columbus, New York and Nobu in the Metropolitan London, England.

Who is the target traveler for boutique hotels? Well, I would say everyone who is looking for a unique hotel experience. There is no “typical” profile of a boutique hotel guest. The age group is likely to be 30 to 50, in such creative professions as advertising/marketing, entertainment or the media. They can be on business, or staying for leisure. It is more a psychographic of people who are certainly adventurous and seek, and appreciate, lifestyle – which is, more than traditional demographics, the distinguishing feature.

Now, when it comes to the bottom line, boutique hotel owners can expect a premium daily room rate well above a city average. Boutique hotels generally maintain both higher ADR’s (Average Daily Rate) and occupancies than other hotels within a shared marketplace and the smaller ones tend to have more flexible infrastructures and are able to control their bottom line easier. Owners know that if a boutique hotel is truly unique and well run it should achieve a higher return than competitors. That is why I put my money into the boutique sector.

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