Boutique Hotel. Only the words have the imagination going. “How cool would it be to be the general manager of a cool boutique hotel?” I often found asking myself as I flipped through the pages of the magnificent photos. Working hard to generate a livelihood out of the resort business, I had been convinced that I simply had to be concerned about a boutique hotel .
That came true, when in 2004 I was invited to be the overall director of what was and still is one of Palm Springs most stylish boutique resorts. I left another huge opportunity only to be a part of this wonderful world. The art, the layout, the vibe. I hadn’t ever worked anywhere with a”vibe”. A year later and I knew, I understood what lots in the resort business do not. . .what it’s really like to be the gm of a hip, cool boutique resort. It’s not for everybody and amazing for many.
There’s a miniature storm brewing at the boutique resort world, one I do not believe most involved in this business are conscious of. With more and more boutique hotel operators entering the playground, more and more poor hiring decisions are being created. The right General Mangers are functioning at the wrong HD Hotels. Like a square peg and a round hole, some things simply don’t work. Who’s to blame and what can be done?
The Boutique Hotel
First let me first tell you that I have a very narrow view of what really constitutes a boutique hotel. A boutique resort isn’t defined by merely a popular design, as many would assert.
In my opinion, a boutique hotel is a property That’s uniquely important in four manners:
- Architecture and Design.
- A high level of service. A property shouldn’t exceed 150 guest rooms, so boosting the guest to staff ratio.
- Sell to a particular demographic.
- Are independently owned and operated (that is where some will disagree with me).
A boutique hotel must be an independent operation. The hotel must not be a part of a collection that is more than say, 10 properties. Beyond that you get into using a company hierarchical management style that is required in conducting a large business and maintaining brand awareness. Take W Hotels for example. In my opinion these are not boutique hotels. They look like a boutique hotel, even feel like one. Many boutique hotels would strive to be as great as a W. But a W Hotel is managed and run by a huge corporation. The property level direction makes hardly any decisions about what services are offered and how the property is conducted. A boutique hotel must be operated as close to the real physical operation as you can. W’s and the like are amazing, but in my opinion do not match the definition of a boutique resort. Boutique hotels are also constantly re-inventing themselves, making sure their jagged guest never get bored and look to remain at the most recent new, hip and trendy property.
Boutique Hotel Guest
Travelers chose to stay at a boutique resort because of the narrative, or the experience. The experience is very important and have to be exceptional and somewhat cutting edge. The general demographics are people 20 to 50 years of age, work in more creative fields like advertising or amusement and appreciate a higher level of service. When Ian Schrager entered the marketplace with what many consider to be the very first boutique hotel, this demographic discovered that they might use their travel budget buy them a space in a cool, stylish hotel rather than a generic mid-level branded property. And the boom started.
Boutique hotel guests like experiences, unique design, cutting edge interior design and in some cases a metropolitan site. The market is growing and the demographic model explained earlier is starting to bleed into others. You may very well find a Fortune 500 CEO staying at a boutique resort. It’s hard to dismiss the hype.
Brands vs. Boutiques
Luxurious hotel operators are scrambling to avoid losing market share to the boutique globe. Some hotels are in fact taking the”brand” off their marketing and reevaluate their operations so that their properties are boutique. This famous luxury property lately took Mandarin Oriental away so that they could operate and compete in the new marketplace of more independent resorts. They are now simply”The Kahala” and are working hard to be authentically local and independent of a major brand identification. I believe other people will follow.
For the sake of the book, I will use the luxury resort as the contrast to the boutique because most closely associate a boutique hotel with luxury travel. So what’s so different about being a general manager at a lavish resort versus a boutique resort? Could it really be different? The principles are the same. The general manager is accountable for the whole day to day operation, hiring decisions, marketing, budgets, forecasting, rate plan, facility maintenance etc.. . The key for the two kinds of possessions is guest service and guest interaction. The guest in a top end luxury resort expects to be able to socialize with the resort general manager, as do the guests in a boutique home. It is all high touch.
The distinction is that a boutique hotel general manager wears just a few more hats than the luxury general manager. A boutique overall manager might be preparing complicated budget calling spreadsheets at 10am and at 10:30 am be draining the pool towels from around the hotel’s salt water dip. When was the last time you saw the overall manager of the Peninsula Beverly Hills with an arm full of towels? Do not get me wrong, I know that the overall manager of the Peninsula could do this in a second, if they needed to. The general director of a boutique hotel HAS to, because there is nobody else. The 1 server working the restaurant is also likely responsible for taking care of the pool, taking room service requests, delivering the orders and on and on…. The general manager of a boutique resort is occasionally also the HR manager and breaks front desk agents. If the gm is in California then the gm may wind up breaking just about every place just to avoid getting sued and fined!