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Creating boutique hotel experiences guests will love

While they are usually small in size, Boutique hotels are big on personality, offering hidden gems in beautiful and quirky settings

In a survey we've conducted, one third of people said they had stayed in a boutique hotel in the last year and almost one in four would prioritise staying in boutique hotels over well-known hotel brands.

But how can owners of boutique, country house and urban chic hotels make the most of this demand?

What makes a hotel ‘boutique’?

Guests have certain expectations from boutique hotels. For a start, our research found 77% of people expect boutique hotels to be small, between 10-100 rooms. They also want them to feel like they are independently or family-owned, and expect a homely atmosphere. And above all, service and quality must be better than at a larger hotel – get this right, and customers are willing to pay more.

Interesting and unique properties appeal to travellers from around the world looking for somewhere both upmarket and out of the ordinary. But everything needs to be a cut above the average: location, design and décor, food and service

Darren Seward
Hospitality and food and drink sector specialist at NFU Mutual

Your checklist for creating a boutique experience

The true boutique experience comes from the finer details which need to impress from the moment visitors arrive to the moment they leave. So consider these tips:

1. Get the basics right:

Whilst quirky design and uniqueness are often key traits of boutique hotels, be careful not to prioritise style over substance or even the most novelty-seeking guests will be left disappointed. This starts with providing a welcoming, homely and spotlessly clean environment, but also extends to convenience factors such as free parking, privacy, plug sockets near the bed and reading lights. Ensure there is sufficient space in guest rooms to store belongings, and if the hotel features a noisy bar, consider offering quiet rooms away from the activity.

2. Provide a warm welcome:

Offer a welcome drink or other refreshments upon arrival – guests at the Zetter Townhouse in London are greeted with a complimentary cocktail. If a new guest’s room isn’t ready when they arrive, provide spaces to relax in the meantime. Also consider small touches to make guests feel special, such as a personalised welcome message and free fruit or flowers in their room.

3. Provide a professional yet personal service:

Customers expect staff to be friendly, professional and attentive, without being overbearing. To make a lasting impression, show you have a real desire to ensure their stay is memorable: take time to chat to them, ask if they’ve made dinner reservations or booked a trip, and offer to do it for them.

4. Provide and promote high-end, locally-sourced product and culture:

According to our Hotel Confidence Report, 72% of consumers would be impressed if a hotel promoted that it uses and supports local suppliers. Try using locally-sourced ingredients in your food offering, making local products available for sale to your guests, and hanging your walls with works by local artists. At The Gunton Arms in Norfolk, for example, chef Stuart Tattersall cooks venison from the surrounding deer park. 

5. Offer something unique:

Guests expect boutique hotels to offer a bespoke experience, often based on a theme, or to tell a unique story linked to its history, ownership or local area. The eccentric Crab Manor Hotel in North Yorkshire aims to provide a tour of the world's most famous luxury hotels, with 20 individually themed rooms. And farm-to-fork guesthouse Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall offers bread-making workshops.

6. Add surprising details:

Small touches can make guests’ experience seem more personal and memorable. Hotel Endsleigh in Devon provides Hunter wellies for guests’ use on walks around its grounds. And guests at Somerset hotel, At The Chapel, have fresh croissants brought to their room each morning from its bakery.

7. Don't rule out business customers:

Urban boutique hotels in particular should consider offering business rates for workers looking to stay somewhere slightly less mundane. Attractive single occupancy rates, strong and reliable Wi-Fi and free parking could be a way to attract customers during the week.

8. Cater for your location:

Guests’ expectations of your hotel’s facilities can vary according to where it’s located – for example, a secluded countryside retreat is best served by having its own restaurant whilst a prime inner-city spot surrounded by cafes and restaurants may not need one. If your hotel is in a rural location, offering complimentary bikes or a shuttle service would provide a point of difference and helps those guests without a car. And be sure to show off your knowledge of the local area. Chapel House in Cornwall does this by providing iPads in its rooms that include details of local ‘hidden gems’, from a secluded beach to walking and cycle trails and the best place to watch the sunset. 

9. Encourage guests to leave reviews on exceptional service and experiences:

Positive reviews are your most powerful marketing tool, and can be tailored to your target audience. To help reviews appear credible to sceptical readers, aim to build a community of ‘members’, perhaps matching names with photos, so others feel confident reviewers are genuine. If you do receive a negative review, make sure you respond appropriately.