Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) produced the Boutique Lifestyle Leadership Symposium 2015 in Santa Monica, California. From October 21 to 23, notable speakers and panelists discussed trends and topics important to the world of upscale, small hotel destinations.
At the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on a grassy promenade overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in addition to an ambitious agenda of speakers, a pop-up trade show featured vendors promoting products as diverse as luxury beds, high-tech hotel room keys and a book called “The Teaching of Buddha.”
Taking a broad look at the state of the industry, some panels looked at industry-wide trends, including the competition posed by Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owners). Differentiating themselves from large hotel chains, luxury boutique hotels face competition from one another, making branding crucial to success.
Speakers emphasized that today’s luxury consumers are looking for value and distinctiveness. The internet allows for comparisons which can challenge a boutique hotel’s competitiveness. But, if managed properly, online searches can also illuminate what makes one boutique hotel unique or “better” than another.
Some panels drilled down and explored topics that would delight spreadsheet wonks with analyses of occupancy rates, ADR, RevPar, NOI, and EBITDA Investment. Other speakers and panels looked at the ways in which technology converges with hospitality creating operational efficiencies and improving the guest experience.
A theme running through the symposium and examined from numerous perspectives was the pressure on hotels, large and small, to add quality shopping to their list of guest engagements. That means expanding product lines beyond those offered in spas or the incidentals sold in the small shop next to the lobby.
The economic imperatives to search out revenue streams that increase the hotel’s viability are one side of an opportunity. The other side of that imperative was described by Paula Oblen (President, Hotelements). Choosing an upscale boutique hotel means that the guest is looking “to enjoy a level of decadence we often don’t feel we deserve at home.” Of course that means the service experienced at poolside, in the lobby, restaurant and bar.
But even more, hotels need to understand, Oblen added, “the sense of place created in the hotel means creating an experience.” An experience, which Martyn Lawren Bullard (CEO, Martyn Lawren Bullard Design) and DayNa Decker (Founder & Chief Creative Officer, DayNa Decker) said could be quantified by products that were enjoyed in the hotel and afterwards at home. Those products are ones enjoyed in all parts of the house. Celebrity chefs brand the menus in boutique hotels and create food products to be enjoyed in home kitchens. Clothing can recall the experience of the hotel beyond a logo or a bathrobe. In some boutique hotels, virtually everything in the hotel can be purchased for home use: clothing, sheets, pillows, furniture, art work and so on. The objective is to connect the guest to the hotel in such a way that the two life-styles become intrinsically intertwined.
Many boutique hotels add fragrances into the air conditioning systems to create a distinctive scent, experienced in the guest rooms and public spaces. Building on that fragrance, designers like Decker create candles which are meant to trigger a sense-memory when burned at home. A sense-memory that would draw the guest back to the hotel or to the hotel’s website where products could be purchased. Those in-home and online experiences are intended to reinforce the pleasures associated with the hotel.
In a competitive environment, luxury boutique hotels work hard to differentiate themselves from other hotels, especially the large chain hotels. In turn, large chains find themselves looking over their shoulders to see what boutique hotels are doing.
Many small hotels–think of the Ace hotels or the WestHouse New York–have established design and product trends that are subsequently copied by large hotel chains. The importance of art, specialty amenities, bold colors and using visuals to create a mood were frequently explored first in luxury boutiques before being adopted by large hotel chains.
The symposium explored all of these topics and more at great length. A complete list of speakers and panels may be found on the BLLA website. For additional insider tips follow Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown, David Latt @DavidJLatt and the Boutique Lifestyle and Lodging Association @BoutiqueLodging.
This is a guest post by David Latt who publishes Men Who Like to Travel and Men Who Like to Cook.