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By: Robin Richmond

'Hoteliers are no longer just in the business of selling sleep, now we're in the business of creating dreams'

- Chip Conley, Joie de Vivre Hospitality

Boutique hotels have rapidly become one of the fastest growing niches in the tourism industry – with individual and chic hotels opening across the globe in cities such as London, New York and Tokyo. However, despite the concept of boutique hotels being around since the mid 1980’s, most people are still unsure what a boutique hotel is and how it differs from traditional hotel accommodation.

Defining boutique hotels can be difficult as creating an all consuming definition would betray the fact that the entire concept is based around individuality and the alternative feel each of the properties have. However, broadly speaking such hotels are often very unique in terms of architecture and are designed carefully to fit around a central theme which is visible throughout an establishment from its décor to the general ambiance.

While independent hotels are not a new notion, boutique hotels tend to be life-style focussed and try to break free from the accepted style of traditional bland hotel chains. As a result boutique hotels tend to be marketed from the perspective of a brand image or lifestyle choice rather than from a demographic perspective. The idea is people would go out of their way to stay at one of these hotels...even if it means travelling an extra ten miles from the airport.

It is often said that frustration leads to innovation. As a result it was perhaps in response to many consumers boredom with the similar mass marketing designs of the big hotel chains that led to the first Boutique hotels being built in 1980’s New York. Hoteliers like Ian Schrager created a number of contemporary hotels aimed at the thriving young urbanite market that was associated with the city at the time. Elsewhere other hoteliers such as Richard Kessler, Bill Kimpton and Chris Blackwell were following suit and trying to focus their energies on this niche market by building themed hotels in locations such as San Francisco and the Caribbean.

Boutique hotels (or a least the first accommodation that fits the category) first came to light in the UK with the opening of Blake’s Hotel in London – Created by London designer turned hotelier, Anauska Hempel, the hotel has set the standards for fashionable small hotels around the world with 51 individually designed rooms.

Since Blake’s Hotel led the way London has seen a number of Boutique Hotels open such as Christina Ong's stylish Halkin and Metropolitan hotels and Gordon Campbell Gray's One Aldwych. Experts agree that this trend is likely to continue with the increasingly sophisticated and fickle tourism industry constantly looking for new ideas and differentiators. The UK’s biggest provider of short break hotel accommodation has a devoted an entire section on its website to Boutique Hotels with offers throughout the UK and Europe. The fact that Superbreak describes the hotels as “Cutting-edge furnishings, architecture and the chance to rub shoulders with the stars. You'll be talking about your stay for years...” backs up the claim that Boutique hotels are selling an experience and not just a room for the night.

For many the future of Boutique Hotels rests with large retailers rather than hoteliers. Many see this as an excellent way to expand their brand and it is only seen as a matter of time before the likes Quicksilver surfing hotels or Harley Davidson road houses come into existence. Although just examples it would appear the branding opportunities could be endless with the consumer soon choosing their favourite type of hotel like they would choose a favourite brand of jeans.

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