The word "boutique" is thrown around quite a lot these days, from boutique agencies to boutique exercise studios to, of course, boutique hotels. But what are boutique hotels, and what sets them apart from more typical accommodations? To help you better understand this lodging option, U.S. News spoke with experts from some of the world's top hotel brands, as well as smaller, independent properties. Each sheds light on what makes a boutique hotel unique, including its destination-inspired decor and the personalized experiences guests receive through exceptional customer service.
What Is a Boutique Hotel?
According to Jason Moskal, global vice president of the Hotel Indigo and EVEN Hotels brands for InterContinental Hotels Group, the term "boutique" was first coined in the 1980s when a stay at the now-closed Morgans Hotel in New York City was compared to visiting a boutique retail shop. "True to its name, hotels with a bit of style, design and personality began gaining popularity," he says.
Today's brand of boutique hotel is largely characterized by its smaller size, personalized service and local personality, which can vary dramatically depending on where the property is located. "Boutique hotels always cater to the individual, providing very personalized, intimate service," says Moskal, explaining that these properties are designed to blend into the community and reflect the neighborhoods and cultures around them.
"They tend to be smaller in size, which results in a more intimate vibe, allowing hotel teams to deliver customized guest services and experiences," says Jenna Hackett, global head for the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, one of Hilton's boutique brands.
Kenan Simmons, vice president of the Americas region and development for Small Luxury Hotels of the World, says that a characteristic of their member hotels is the involvement of their general managers and owners, something that the brand's guests often praise. He also explains that a sense of place is key. Boutique properties are ideal for "those who want to close the curtains of the hotel room and know exactly where they are in the world," he says.
Who Stays at Boutique Properties?
Travelers who enjoy staying at boutique hotels are not defined as much by an age demographic as they are by an attitude, according to Moskal. What's more, he says IHG believes these guests are curious, upbeat vacationers, noting that they see everyone from millennials to Gen Xers to baby boomers bedding down at these kinds of properties.
Mark Nogal, global head of the Curio Collection by Hilton, agrees, saying that their boutique hotel properties appeal to "curious travelers seeking unexpected and authentic experiences."
A survey commissioned by the Curio Collection found that 91 percent of people would describe themselves as curious, with more than 70 percent saying travel was their top outlet for expressing that curiosity. The brand breaks curious travelers down even further into five "Curiosity Types" – Pathfinder, Epicurean, Culturalist, Spiritualist and Challenger – with specific accommodation recommendations for each.
What to Expect at a Boutique Hotel
While it's hard to pinpoint specific amenities that guests will always find at boutique hotels (each property is tailored to its geographic location and neighborhood), there are a few commonalities.
"Typically, boutique hotels offer a hotel team with deep knowledge of the local neighborhood and high-end design to reflect that community where the boutique resides," Moskal says.
Food is also important to this group of curious vacationers, so properties strive to provide authentic options from cultures represented in the neighborhood. "Travelers can expect locally inspired food and beverage offerings along with distinctive architecture and experiences that reflect each property's unique destination," Nogal says.
At Small Luxury Hotels of the World member properties, Simmons says guests will find top-notch products and services, explaining that "the quality, customer service and unique experiences at our hotels are what keep travelers coming back again and again."
Amazing Boutique Properties to Consider
Since their emergence in the 1980s, boutique hotels have exploded in popularity. Most major hotel chains boast their own boutique brands, though independent boutique hotels are just as prevalent. In fact, Moskal says the boutique sector is one of the fastest growing segments in the hotel industry.
IHG lays claim to boutique brands like Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Hotel Indigo and EVEN Hotels, while Hilton offers its Tapestry and Curio collections for visitors seeking more personalized and intimate properties. Hyatt Worldwide guests can stay at boutique hotels that fall within portfolios like Hyatt Centric and Andaz, and Marriott travelers can choose from Moxy, Autograph Collection, Renaissance and W hotels, among other brands.
The Hotel Indigo Los Angeles Downtown stands as a prime example of a boutique property intimately connected to its neighborhood. The hotel, which opened in 2017, features decor influenced by 1920s Los Angeles, drawing inspiration from old Hollywood and the city's underground speak-easies and tunnels, the Fiesta de las Flores parade and historic Chinatown.
At The Diplomat Beach Resort Hollywood, Curio Collection by Hilton, which originally opened in 1958 and played host to guests like Judy Garland, Lawrence Welk and Sammy Davis Jr., guests will find curated artwork, distinctive architecture, 10 locally inspired food and beverage options, two beachfront pools, a spa and the Diplomat Kids Club.
Simmons points to some interesting properties that are recent additions to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World family, such as the all-villa Hotel Three Sixty in the rainforest of Costa Rica and the modern yet historic HGU New York in the Big Apple's NoMad district.
In August 2018, Universal Orlando Resort opened the smaller, boutique-style Universal's Aventura Hotel, a property that's home to just 600 rooms and offers a more intimate atmosphere than the resort's 2,000-room properties. This Loews Hotels outpost boasts a sleek, contemporary design and facilities like a rooftop bar, a food hall and a Starbucks.
ACME Hotel Company in Chicago is an eclectic example of an independent property with creative features and amenities. Guests can take advantage of the hotel's Knock & Drop service, where meals from the on-site restaurant are left by room doors after a simple knock to avoid disturbing patrons. Visitors can also check out ESP guitars and use Amazon Echo devices inside their rooms. The hotel is decorated in graffiti by a local artist, and when guests look out their windows, they will see mannequins painted by commissioned artists.
The Bottom Line
Boutique hotels offer everything from innovative amenities to custom art to locally influenced designs, making them an appealing accommodation choice for many travelers. With more and more intimate properties opening around the world (many of which are associated with large hotel companies), boutique hotels are here to stay.
"Travelers are looking for hotels that complement their lifestyle and embrace their surroundings," Nogal says, "and independent hotels can provide that."
Corrected on Oct. 29, 2018: A previous version of this story misidentified the gender of Kenan Simmons.
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