Boutique hotels, the term in vogue now, but what exactly it is, is it the small size or is it the facilities or the location? Well it is a combination of all these factors and many more. The concept of boutique hotel first surfaced in America in 1984, with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager opening their Morgans Hotel in New York. It then slowly spread to other cities and countries.
There is no single accepted definition of the term, in simple and layman's language, these properties are, "non traditional, unconventional, small, trendy, chic, life style hotels with high degree of personalisation in service and guest interaction and offering a unique experience."
Boutique hotels perform the same functions as the regular hotels or offer the same product to its residents, guests, customers and patrons yet they are quite different from the regular hotels in many ways. These differentiations make them unique and they are able to extract equal if not higher, per room revenue.
Location plays the most important role for hotels success. Boutique hotels require a metro city, down town location for maximising returns. Resorts boutique hotels also require prime location. This fact explains the concentration of boutique hotels in New York's Manhattan area or in central London area.
A hotel could be called as a boutique product if it has 3 to 150 rooms. However, some in the industry feel that the size of the property should not be over 100 rooms, but with the entry of large international chains in this segment, the size factor has been diluted largely. Now we see chains like the Hilton, Starwood, Kempinski, Four Seasons, Le Meridian, to name a few who offer boutique products. This is in addition to the regional chains like the Amanresorts, Oberoi, Dusit, and Banyan Tree and in India the Ista and Park group.
The success of a boutique product depends largely on the quality of experience it offers to the guests. This experience is the resultant feel of all your senses, i.e., what you see, what you hear, what you taste and what you feel. More explicitly, it must evoke the "Wow" factor right from the first point of exposure. This aspect of development of a boutique property is perhaps the most difficult one. It entails creating a mood, an environment and an ambiance, which will add uniqueness to the experience.
The designer, the executer and the operator have to work together to define every element of the product, ensuring that it adds to the exclusivity of the property and enhances the experience. While working on the experience enhancement objective, the team can not loose sight of other essential elements of the product. It has to be ensured that the final product is "chic" and "trendy" exuding a high life style.
Decor plays a very important role in creating ambiance and adds to the evolution of style of product and service. The hotel must become the preferred happening place in the city and the location for the local and visiting celebrities, a place where people want "to be seen around" and "to be seen with", with local media eager to cover each celebrity visit. Visiting the hotel must be seen as a bonus as it offers an opportunity to be seen in the local print media.
Boutique hotels are very trendy with state of the art technology. City boutique hotels boost of high speed Wi-fi internet connectivity, dimmer switches in all areas including guest rooms, multi-plug sockets, LCD or Plasma flat screen TV with remote control, telephones with voice mail, message display and follow-me system and DVD players in rooms. The bathrooms are no less in furnishing, fittings and technology. Most bathrooms have bathtubs cum Jacuzzi as also rain shower, frost-free mirrors and multi-plug shaver socket adjustable to different voltages.
While all these technological features and gadgetry is installed, it is also ensured that every thing is user friendly and does not offend the user, the guest. There is no end to imagination, the seed for innovation and evolution. Development of boutique product is directly influenced by creative and practical imagination or visualisation by its creators.
A boutique product is not complete with out providing its guests stylish entertainment. The entertainment in these hotels includes the pleasing experience in its restaurants and bars. The atmosphere in the restaurants is created in a way that the visit is mentally and physically entertaining and pleasing. The atmosphere, food, and style tickle not only the taste buds but also stir the sight, the smell and the feel scenes. The overall result is enthralling and exotic. While this type of experience could also be enjoyed in the restaurants of a regular hotel or a stand alone restaurant, what make it so special in a boutique hotel is the fact that here it is the continuity of an experience flowing from the rest of the product. In addition to the restaurants, most of the boutique hotels have a chic lounge serving choicest of beverages with live music and a club atmosphere. The hotel becomes an entertaining fun place.
The food in boutique hotel is trendy too; most hotels have very innovative menus. The term fusion cuisine is synonymous with boutique hotels. The selection of crockery and table ware is hip with fine bone china to reflect quality. Table setting complementing the decor, interiors and the mood. Service friendly and inviting. Since boutique hotels normally have one or two restaurants only, they rely on tabletops, table setting and lighting to create different moods at different times of the day, changing the experience at the three meal times.
The soul of the property comes from its people. People - who on one hand are its residents, guests, visitors and patrons and on the other its employees and managers who play such an important role of fueling the hotel with brilliance and bringing it to life. The staffs is professional, well trained, well groomed with positive attitude towards hotel guests, able to anticipate the needs and wants of the guests and never allow these to become demands. Their attitude towards the guests is very positive, friendly and courteous.
Boutique hotels today are just 26 years old. They were born in 1984. In this short period of existence, they have made a mark in the industry and carved out their own niche. Their growth has been phenomenal, to the extent that Google lists boutique hotels under various segments based on their size, location and user groups. These include luxury boutique hotels, chic boutique hotels, designer boutique hotels, spa boutique hotels, romantic boutique hotels, beach boutique hotels and small boutique hotels. In countries like India there is yet another segment that has become extremely popular with the leisure traveller - The Heritage Boutique Hotels. These are old forts, palaces and havelis converted into boutique hotels. These hotels offer a product with colonial architecture, ultra modern and chic facilities and services and a unique and unmatched nostalgic experience of luxury at its best.
The future of boutique product is very promising as an investment and business proposition. Travelling public today knows what they want and how to get it. They are willing to pay the right price for the right product. There was a time when the marketing mantra used to be 'sell what you have," today however it has changed; you to "produce or make what sells". The sooner we understand this changing demand dynamics; the better will be our chance to compete. With the opening of Armani hotel in Dubai recently, it is only a matter of time that we will be stepping into boutique hotels with life style product brands like the Cartier, The Mont Blanc, The Ferrari to name a few.
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Ram Gupta is a professional hospitality consultant with over four decades of experience in Asia, Far East, Middle East and Europe. He has been associated with over two dozen hotel projects. His web site can be viewed at http://www.bcgglobal.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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