Unconventional Event Spaces in Today's Boutique Hotels

The Shift from Traditional to the Unexpected

By Ivan Tamayo Director of Sales & Marketing, Adelphi Hospitality Group | September 24, 2017

Who doesn’t love the neighborhood speakeasy bar pouring prohibition cocktails, or the two-lane bowling alley where world-renowned DJs rule the guest list? We forgot to mention the cozy cabaret-themed screening room that plays the year’s top indie films which keep winning every award at ‘that’ international film festival. And, these special snugs can be found in a boutique hotel near you. Boutiques have gone off-site as well, combining the experiential component into their marketing ventures. Building their brand means sponsoring the pop-up bar at an Art Basel event or an actual pop-up of their hotel itself at the Cannes International Film Festival. Boutique hotels are further enhancing their neighborhoods with their conceptual take-over of annex retail spaces thanks to a deal struck to convert the street level storefront into something more whimsical than whimsical.

The formula is working. It works because in the most genius yet simple of ways it vibes with the agenda of today’s consumer. In a nutshell, the formula equates to providing a space that is unique, inspires creativity, and offers all the bells and whistles of a megabrand hotel while maintaining an identity that is, per Small Luxury Hotels of the World’s latest savvy slogan, “independently minded.” In fact, today’s boutiques do it so well, virtually every megabrand has embarked on their own version of an “independent” line of boutique, lifestyle, or personality sub-brands. Each is uniquely inspired, indigenous to their geographic region, and never to be replicated. Each, most importantly, ensures not to carry the megabrand logo or other forms of their parent company’s trademark as it benefits from the strong financial backing.

Perhaps one could have predicted this trend in the age of social media where individuality and self-promotion is at its prime, especially when one is on that bucket-listed vacation of a life time. It is the age of selfie-taking in spaces “never before experienced by anyone else,” or, almost anyone else. It is also the age of the story, narrative and socially digital, and capturing even a slight glimpse of a novelty is more important than the novelty itself. Alas, it is, admittedly, the leisure traveler of the social media era.

The allure of these properties to the leisure traveler is no cranial buster. But how about their appeal to the group market? Based on all the latest meeting trends, one can argue that the boutique hotel model has paved the way for the direction the entire industry is taking in the development of their venue spaces.

Before revolutionizing how and where companies met, boutique hotels did face their struggles when their arsenal of unique venues were once the unwanted and unexpected. Suggested venues were at times so off-center from the norm they were taboo in the eyes of professional corporate meeting planners who couldn’t fathom their group meeting in a bar or purposefully, curated overgrown courtyard. You don’t need to look that far back to the days when this was a reality. Rewind 5-10 years and the boutique hotels often found themselves facing a significant handicap: real estate. Due to their size, their main selling point to many, they lacked the expected conventional meeting spaces during a time when featuring natural daylight was one of the most valuable selling points a meeting room could possess. To some meeting planners, it was the only unique feature a meeting space required in order to win over their client’s meeting.

They lacked numerous break-outs and the expected pre-function spaces suitable for group registrations and pop-up business centers. No business center at all? Luck favored the prepared traveler in possession of print-ready documents if the front desk offered printing as a service in the first place. The many do’s and don’ts instilled by passionate, creative new hoteliers also plagued their business travelers. Denied were the requests for group signage in the lobby, privatizing of certain spaces, 24-hour function space holds, and numerous other requests. It was easy to see how some companies and planners felt their business was unwanted in the first place. If a boutique hotel was indeed securing any bit of group market share, it was clear their sales team or one-man-band was quite the Virtuoso.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.