As discerning guests choose where to spend their night, weekend or week, boutique hotels are wise to create an identity and develop a story to be told.
U.S. hotel supply increased 2% in 2018 with the opening of almost 103,000 rooms. Independent boutique and soft-brand collection supply increased by 15% in 2018 with nearly 22,000 new rooms.
At least 35 boutique hotel brands are in some form of development in the U.S. As overall supply continues to increase and competing brand types begin to open, how does the boutique hotel, independent or soft brand collection, stand out as a one-of-a-kind overnight stay?
Ethos has become a popular buzz word among successful boutique hotels. Ethos is the fundamental character or spirit of a culture, era or community. When determining how to set your boutique hotel apart from the competitive market and entice curiosity from potential guests, the cultivation of an ethos can be derived through the art of concept branding.
With a focus on developing the hotel’s identity, storyline and immersive experience with the surrounding region, the concept branding process gains inspiration from extensive regional and local research. After determining an authentic and plausible identity for the hotel, the brand story is further told in collaboration with graphic artists and interior designers through color, relevant display pieces, fabric, furniture style, artwork and other aesthetics.
The Gettys Group incorporated several regional concepts when branding the Edwin Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, including the connectivity of the Walnut Street Bridge and the bridge’s engineer, Edwin Thacher; the Tennessee River; Chattanooga’s Native American founder “Little Whitebird;” and a whiskey thief, the tool used to extract samples of whiskey from the barrel. Infusing local personality in the lobby, sitting areas and food & beverage outlets provides opportunity to tell the hotel’s story and provide those all-important Instagrammable moments.
“The goal is to make the guest feel something positive,” The Gettys Group Chairman and CEO Roger Hill said. “Feelings of nostalgia, humor and connection are great places to start.”
This guest-centric approach promotes a hotel experience that is remembered and talked about. The Edwin hotel story continues through clever menu items, local artist displays and staff uniforms. These touchpoints support the guest’s journey and keeps the hotel unique.
“When you implement a well-thought-through brand concept, specific to a region’s culture, you can be sure this exact story cannot be replicated; because it just wouldn’t make sense anywhere else,” Hill said.
The Clermont Hotel in Atlanta, another successful story of concept branding, focuses on layers of nostalgia which is cohesive with the history of the hotel building. Ethan Orley, partner at Oliver Hospitality, said: ”It was important not to dictate a brand, customer profile or interior design for the Clermont Hotel. Instead we let the building speak for itself.”
Throughout its life, the hotel building served as a variety of venues during iconic time periods in Atlanta, spanning from the 1930s through the 1980s. Oliver Hospitality implements an interesting “blend of vintage” throughout The Clermont Hotel, “somewhat like the ’70s punk grandkids moving into grandma’s Parisian-style, Upper Westside apartment,” Orley said. Authentic furniture, genuine-era artwork and graffiti, books and knick-knacks are visible throughout the lobby, communal areas, lounge and guest rooms to promote the hotel’s theme.
“Be careful not to follow the latest design trend,” Orley said. “We strived hard to be authentic to the integrity of the building’s history.”
Cara Federici, founder of The Madison Melle Agency, agreed concept branding is very important for both the independent boutique and soft brand collection hotel. “A strong brand package can drive revenue creating a sought-after product that translates in good design, excellent service or a niche location. Anything that can lead a guest’s choice because of the hotel’s cool factor,” she said.
Based on the 2019 Boutique Hotel Report, independent boutique and soft-brand collection hotels are found in classes ranging from upper midscale to luxury. Can the concept branding process be applied to any class of boutique hotel? “Yes,” Federici said. “A brand story can be implemented through specific touchpoints in any class or tier of hotel.”
Hill added: “There is a solution for every budget and hotel type. There are always options to make your hotel better.”
Kim Bardoul is partner with The Highland Group and author of the annual Boutique Hotel Report. Her experience includes feasibility studies and market analysis for all types of proposed and existing hotels, due diligence for acquisitions, impact studies for several major franchise companies and financial analysis. She specializes in the boutique hotel product.
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