Dramatic d}cor: The
lobby at Viceroy Santa Monica
Brad Wilson, partner and COO of New York
City-based James Hotels, resents the term boutique.
“Boutique tends to imply lesser service, a 94-room hotel with one
desk agent,” he says. “That doesn’t apply to what we do.”
Whatever the terminology, the reality is indisputable: Owners
of boutique hotels a label that’s evolved to describe hotels of
approximately 230 rooms or fewer with a unique design and an
emphasis on personalized service are increasingly adding new
properties under an established hotel’s name, creating the apparent
oxymoron of the “boutique brand.”
Unlike a brand as conceived by major hotel chains, which are
designed to be comforting in their uniformity, boutique brands are
more varied and conceptual. The individual properties might only
resemble one another in name and by general characteristics: Hotel
Gansevoort properties, for example, all have distinctive rooftop
pools and lounge areas, but they might differ greatly in their
layout and design.
Boutique hotels are increasingly popular and profitable.
According to Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research,
through the first three quarters of 2005, occupancy levels in that
segment (among properties with 232 rooms or fewer) averaged 72
percent, up 5.1 percent from the same period in 2004. The average
daily rate, which is a standard measure of a hotel’s health, was up
11.3 percent from the same period in 2004, to $181.64. In just the
first three quarters of 2005, revenue at boutique properties
surpassed $1 billion.
Here’s a look at five new and expanding independent boutique
hotel brands that, in addition to bold visuals and personalized
service, are providing space and support for meetings.
Inner space: The lobby at the Alden
Currently, Alden is a mini-chain of one; the flagship hotel opened
in downtown Houston last September. But Tim Miller, Houston-based
president of Alden Hotels, is hoping to open a second property by
the end of this year and five over the next five years.
Miller explains that the key to understanding the Alden
identity is its name, which derives from the Old English word for
“old friend.” Miller wants guests to feel like they’re entering a
place as comfortable as a friend’s home.
Alden properties are conceived as luxury entries in the “easy
living” or “residential” mold, full-service hotels on the opposite
side of the style spectrum from the airs of white-glove service.
Guest rooms will have plush, upscale furnishings, DVD players
(guests can borrow DVDs from a box at the front desk) and
residential-quality installations in the bathrooms. Alden hotels
also offer complimentary town car service, “if you need to run to
the pharmacy or to an appointment,” Miller says.
The Houston property, housed in the former Sam Houston Hotel,
offers a 2,400-square-foot veranda, capable of accommodating groups
of up to 200 people, plus two meeting rooms and a boardroom.
Whether attending to the needs of business or pleasure, Miller’s
staff of 140, which periodically outnumbers the guests at his
97-room hotel, is trained to offer highly focused, personalized
According to Miller, cities under “active consideration” for
future hotels are Atlanta, Austin (Texas), Phoenix and Denver. “A
tremendous number of cities, I would say, need an Alden,” Miller
says with a smile.
Having opened in March 2004 as a full-service luxury property in
Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Hotel Gansevoort feels more like
a chic lounge or nightclub than a hotel, with exposed stage lights
illuminating the lobby, staff members guarding the elevators like
bouncers and music pumping throughout the place (including the
swimming pool, underwater). “Our clientele is there to do business,
but they are looking for pleasure as well,” says Michael Achenbaum,
president of New York City-based Gansevoort Hotel Group.
With a second Gansevoort opening on the northern end of South
Beach in Miami at the end of this year and a third in downtown Los
Angeles in mid-2007, Achenbaum says his brand will be defined by
properties in trendy or up-and-coming neighborhoods and by a
signature rooftop pool, bar, lounge and terrace at each location.
(The rooftop at Gansevoort South in Miami will be the largest, at
28,000 square feet.) Achenbaum also says the hotels’ guest rooms
will be larger than the average rooms in each given market.
Achenbaum wants Gansevoort to offer five-star-level service in
a hip environment (“We’re not staffing with actors and waitresses.
We’re hiring people who want hotel careers,” he says) and pledges
to select interesting buildings for conversion. Gansevoort West in
Los Angeles, for example, is being constructed in the former
Trinity Church, which has a 1,800-seat amphitheater that Achenbaum
plans to preserve.
The new Gansevoort Hotels have more meeting space than typical
boutiques. Gansevoort South will feature 16,000 square feet of
dedicated meeting space, including a 6,500-square-foot ballroom.
Gansevoort West will feature approximately 6,700 square feet. The
original Gansevoort in New York has about 3,500 square feet of
meeting space. The rooftops at the properties can be used as
additional function space.
Achenbaum said he’s close to securing a deal for a fourth
Gansevoort in Las Vegas and will pursue other opportunities