One of the most popular sessions at the Americas Lodging and Investment Summit held last week in at JW Marriott & Nokia Theatre L.A. Live was the boutique/lifestyle panel. And it’s not surprising. 2014 was the year of the lifestyle brand—a much-coveted boutique-like concept developed by the big brands that sometimes get criticized for being too cookie-cutter.
The panel included John Vanderslice, global head, luxury and lifestyle brands, Hilton Worldwide; Mike Muir, vice president of North American development, Best Western International; Allison Reid, senior vice president, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; Niki Leondakis, CEO, Commune Hotels + Resorts; and Paul Scialla, founder and CEO, Delos. They had the difficult task of confronting the many questions that come with being the segment of the moment. I’ve broken down some key points to create a helpful primer of what you need to know about this boutique/lifestyle segment, from the brands’ point of view.
Why would a brand get into the boutique segment?
Muir from Best Western was forthcoming with his answer, especially with the launch of the company’s own lifestyle brand. Vīb was announced a few months ago in October and boutique is now 10 percent of the upper-midscale brand’s pipeline. “Best Western is in the boutique business because there’s demand,” he said. “We’re in a good place for it.”
What happens if everyone says they offer a boutique experience? Does boutique lose it’s meaning?
The short answer: Yes, kind of. Leondakis tackled this head on. “When you think of a boutique—why you choose a boutique store over a chain—you choose it because there’s a definite point of view. It’s carefully selected. It’s thoughtful. It’s all leading to an overall lifestyle or attitude. And when you say boutique and make it formulaic, then it’s no longer that, but we call all hotels in this segment that. The biggest problem is confusion.”
Does design still matter to boutique hotels?
Boutique hotels are all about cool design but that’s just a baseline, says Leondakis. “True boutique has layers and layers of experiential aspects that unfold during the guest’s stay that create an emotional response.” The most boutique thing a boutique hotel can do is offer a personalized customer service experience.
Localization is also key, says Reid. “That’s the trend we all see and acknowledge.” Customers love design that plays off its location. “It’s unique and relevant,” she says.
Aren’t these new brands created just to serve Millennials anyway?
“It’s not about Millennials,” Leonadkis says. “It’s more about the attitudes,” and Millennials have attitudes that cross generations.
OK, good, so that’s it with Millennials.
Not really. Millennials also have made social media relevant. “Everyone knows what they want because they tell us over and over again,” says Reid. Millennials want to share things, they’re global travelers, and they are changing the industry by making things happen in quicker timeframe.
Be honest, will this lifestyle trend ever end?
It’s not going anywhere for awhile. The demand and interest is there. “It’s a great time to be in this segment,” says Muir.