Boutique Hotels: From Unique Mystique to Oblique Antique.

August 3, 2020

Boutique Hotels: From Unique Mystique to Oblique Antique.

May 29, 2023

Did the boutique hotel industry lose its way, and, if so, when did this happen? This question scampered around my mind recently when I was on a Zoom call with a Millennial friend and his Gen-Z girlfriend. We lamented the lack of travel these days, and I asked them if they had any favorite boutique hotels.

She gave me a funny look as in, “What’s a boutique hotel?” He simply said, “Airbnb and the cool new youth hostels like Generator, Freehand, and Selena took all the air out of the boutiques' sails. I guess it’s just Boomers that like boutiques these days.” Ouch, boutiques are now antiques!

Of course, I have my own worries about the state of the boutique hotel industry. Especially at a time when every empty Hilton hotel lobby looks like a boutique from a few decades ago. At a time when Ian Schrager has been on the Marriott payroll for more than a decade. At a time when Kimpton is sandwiched between Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza as an IHG brand. At a time when Airbnb is seeing weekly revenue volume that’s matching a year ago while the hotel chains continue to struggle. And, finally, at a time when OTA’s (Online Travel Agencies) are strangling independent hotels with their obscenely high commissions.

Sure, we still have our share of local boutique hoteliers who represent their communities' souls, and, fortunately, the lodging industry's innovation will be fueled by these creative and courageous entrepreneurs. But, what are we to make of this forty-year boutique hotels history that the online travel magazine Skift presented? On the left side of the graphic are entrepreneurs. On the right side are global hotel giants.

So, if that’s our past forty years, what do I see ahead for the next forty years for boutiques? While I’ve been prescient on boutique hotels, urban spa hotels, glamping, and home-sharing, my forecasting talents can be suspicious, as evidenced by my investments in failed Boomer social lounges, websites dedicated to discovering festivals, along with numerous shuttered restaurants (yes, I still have a few pet rocks in my closet, as well as my head). All that aside here are three bets I would make:

  1. Boutiques as your “home-instead-of-home.” The digital nomad is going mainstream due to remote work. She sold her home or ended her apartment lease, and now she’s on the road full-time, but she’s not traveling like a “road warrior.” She’s going to spend a month or so in each place she visits, so she could use an extended stay boutique hotel like Palihouse and AKA. Boutique hotels as hipster homes. Suite-sized guest rooms and the kinds of services and amenities you’d want if you’re staying a while.
  2. Boutiques go country. Airbnb’s huge recent comeback has been fueled by people staying outside cities, getting back to nature. Of course, there are rural bed & breakfasts and lots of vacation rental homes, but quirky boutique retreats like El Cosmico and equestrian-focused boutique resorts like Castello di Reschio are made for Instagram and create a soulful alternative to the mild, other rural options. We’ll see more hipster hoteliers looking for non-urban sites.
  3. Boutiques offer transformation. Tapping into the solid transformational travel trend, which has only been accelerated due to the pandemic, a growing number of boutique hotels are becoming social crucibles for learning and spiritual transformation. Part of this relates to the evolving needs of the core Boomer/GenX demographic, and partly, this is due to the differentiation it offers versus the growing number of global boutique hotels. The Italian secular heritage Eremito and our midlife wisdom school MEA in Mexico represent this trend.

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