Jaillan Yehia

What Is A Boutique Hotel Anyway?

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Boutique Hotel Helvetia, Zurich

I love hotels, but I get even more excited about quirky and interesting accommodation which means I really love boutique hotels.

I seek out, write about, blog about and recommend boutique properties, yet the question I am most often asked is simply ‘What makes a hotel a boutique hotel?’ so I went along to the Boutique Hotel Summit at London’s Altitude 360 this week to find out.

‘Many people don’t care about the star ratings of hotels. There are things that matter more,’ asserts Gordon Campbell Gray, a leading hotelier in the boutique sector and a speaker at the event – and I couldn’t agree more. In an overly technological and processed world, the one thing we want from our time off, and by extension, from our hotels, is an authentic, personal and genuinely engaging experience, and this is what boutique hotels strive to offer, regardless of star ratings.

Today’s traveller cares about the experience of a hotel stay more than they do the facilities, and the boutique hotel customer wants to get something out of their stay rather than just a pillow on which to lay their head or a generic stay indistinguishable from the next or the previous hotel. It’s this experience that boutique hotels specialise in enhancing – offering a different approach to hospitality than do the established chain hotels.

Nicaragua’s Hotel Spa Granada has its own Chocolate Museum

Whether on a trip for business or leisure (and the boutique hotel guest is most likely to be combining a bit of both) we just don’t feel that having a paper cap on our orange juice glass in the morning is relevant anymore, which is perhaps why those attending the event couldn’t agree on whether a boutique hotel could even be a boutique hotel if it was part of a chain and governed by rules and requirements.

Another benefit of smaller boutique accommodation is that the hotel itself can be more choosy about its guests, allowing the owners to guard and nurture the experience they want to provide and allowing guests to enjoy an atmosphere that’s more akin to that of a members’ club, and increases the likelihood that they’ll meet other like-minded individuals during their stay – something I’ve found during my visits to unusual or off-the-beaten-track properties that say a lot about the people who have chosen to stay there.

Johannesburg’s hotel MiPiChi in residential Melville has maximum like-minded-guest appeal

But how is this tribe of savvy hotel consumers finding the next aspirational boutique property they want to visit?  If it’s true that very few people actually search for the phrase boutique hotel on google, travellers must be finding out about must-visit destinations and properties somewhere – increasingly via travel blogs but putting blogs aside, the internet is of course the natural place to start.

Experience is showing that when it comes to internet users, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers it’s a hotel’s reputation not its price that is the key factor.  Luckily boutique hotel owners tend to take huge pride in their businesses and that means taking their online communication, marketing and feedback seriously. Ensuring someone is available to respond on sites like Tripadvisor, as well as through social media is key to generating bookings for the hotel and inspiring confidence for the consumer.

According to the well-established Berns of Stockholm a boutique hotel doesn’t want to see its guests as ‘platinum gold or silver club members but as family members’ – a lovely sentiment – and family is an important theme for many smaller, more intimate hotels which have a tendency to be owned by a single family. Flemings Hotel in London’s Mayfair is one such hotel and is able to reach for more personal and altruistic goals than those of a multinational hotel chain; at Flemings the founders simply aimed “to be proud of the hotel.” What guest wouldn’t want to be part of that philosophy?

So to answer the question ‘what is a boutique hotel?’, They tend to be independent, one-off, small to medium sized properties, they may be themed or design-led, quirky or unique in style, and offer facilities like honesty bars over in-room trouser presses, but it’s the human aspect which really sets them apart.

The Adderley Hotel has a rooftop pool in downtown Cape Town, as well as lovely staff

Independent hotels strive to look after their staff well and make sure no-one is sticking to a script when interacting with guests; they’re free to cultivate their offering, crafting something as bespoke, real and human as possible – this translates into a better atmosphere which keeps the guest coming back for more, recommending the hotel to friends and family, and online – and not just clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook, but feeling the sentiment in their hearts and minds.

What does the phrase boutique hotel mean to you? Whether you are a hotel guest or a travel industry professional I’d love to know what defines boutique hotels for you whether it’s size, ownership, concept, philosophy or style.

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