I often point to the rise of boutique hotels as one of the markers on the global journey from the Service to the Experience Economy. They are, after all, functionally inferior from a service perspective. They generally provide smaller (sometimes tiny) rooms, with quirky fixtures and idiosyncratic furniture that all too often do not fit our needs (or our bodies). They often do not have such amenities we expect from modern hotels such as 24-hour room service, fitness centers, and large conference rooms. And what really bugs me is that many of my favorites – such as The Library Hotel in Manhattan, a frequent stop on our Meaningful Experiences Tour – are so often booked when I want to stay there!
So what makes boutique hotels so successful that all the big guys in the industry (Starwood, Marriott, etc.) decided to join in and create their own boutique brands? First of all, they’re distinctive. The moment you walk in to the lobby you know you’re not at an all-too-familiar hotel stamped out according to some standard plan that meets the needs of the proverbial (but nonexistent) average customer.
Secondly, they’re designed. Boutique hotels have an intentionality to them that prevents them both from being mistaken for any mass-market hotel and from fulfilling the service needs of the masses. This particular point of view comes from a strong theme – the organizing principle that lets the designers determine what is in and what is out in order to create a cohesive, orchestrated experience. Joie de Vivre Hotels uses a different magazine as the organizing principle for each of its hotels – Rolling Stone at the Phoenix Hotel, National Geographic at Hotel Carlton, Wired at Hotel Avante, and so forth – which beautifully enables it to appeal to different people by letting them gravitate toward the one (or few) hotels that match their identity.
Finally, they’re convivial, creating social gathering places for staying guests and visitors alike. While the lobbies and meeting areas of chain hotels seem specifically aimed so that no guest need ever bother (ie, talk to) another, boutique hotels create vibrant spaces, energetic interactions, and lively events that foster conversation, bring people together, and enable the serendipity of chance encounters.
And for all of that they are rewarded. As Ian Schrager, the man who almost singlehandedly created the category almost three decades ago, recently told CMW, “We’re in an experience economy. People pay a premium for it.”
Posted by Joe Pine
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