From Bankruptcy to Thriving Boutique Hotel

The Story of Wickwoods Country Club, Hotel & Spa

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism and Hospitality, University of South Carolina | September 14, 2014

Interest in boutique hotels remains overwhelming. According to a recent 2014 study, the growth in demand for boutique hotel rooms will continue to exceed the growth in supply through 2015. In fact, although only three percent of the hotel market is made up of boutique hotels, 10 percent of upcoming supply will be boutique in nature. Why the growth? Developing - and evolving - consumer habits is a key driver; hotel guests are increasingly seeking a unique experience as opposed to a commoditized product, and are more sensitive to design, levels of service and quality of food.

Even corporate travelers are starting to favor such establishments over the standard hotel experience. Boutique hotels (generally considered to have less than 100 rooms) are better placed to react to these demands as their limited capacity enables them to enhance the quality of service and customize the experience for guests.

On the supply side, it is less expensive to convert an existing property (be it an office building or another hotel) into a boutique hotel than build a new one, and boutique hotel owners do not have to comply with brand standards. Developers can more easily convert an existing building into a design-led hotel that welcomes varying floor levels and layouts rather than having to conform to minimum room sizes and standards imposed by most large brands. Boutique hotels can also charge relatively high room rates, making them attractive to owners.

There are disadvantages of course. Boutique hotels cannot match the loyalty programs or corporate marketing efforts of the big chains, but as Kimpton’s CEO Mike Depatie says, travelers are willing to trade off large brands’ more elaborate loyalty benefits for having a great experience. In fact the term ‘lifestyle’ has emerged in association with boutique hotels as they have evolved. The term is now commonly used with the entrance of chains into the sector, such as W by Starwood, Edition by Marriott, and Hotel Indigo by Intercontinental Hotels Group. However, these lifestyle hotels often have around 200 rooms, so they have difficulty providing the ‘true’ boutique experience.

As a recent HVS report suggested, even though the uniqueness of a property and its facilities, in addition to the exclusivity and individuality of the hotel are key combinations, it is the quality and personalized service that will continue to become very significant in creating the distinctive experience of a boutique hotel.

One example of a distinctive boutique hotel experience comes from the south of England, where Wickwoods Country Club, Hotel & Spa is dipping its toes into this market. The club is a popular fitness venue for baby boomers who combine Pilates, personal training and pampering with tennis leagues and tea parties. And it makes a stunning wedding or party backdrop with its 22 acres of beautiful gardens and artful arbors. As well as a members’ club, Wickwoods is an idyllic weekend getaway for fitness enthusiasts, walkers and tennis players – and, of course, spa fanatics. With only seven bedrooms, the hotel is small and exclusive but has the advantage of day members adding atmosphere to the bar, restaurant and sporty facilities.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.