Discerning travellers choose total hotel experience

A few decades ago, when long-haul travel was beginning to expand people’s horizons beyond their usual experiences, finding familiar creature comforts in a foreign city was like hitting the jackpot. No more. For today’s sophisticated traveller, the more out of the ordinary, the better.

It’s what draws guests to properties like the PitStop boutique hotel in Hertfordshire, or the Crazy Bear Fitzrovia in London. These and countless other boutique, country house and urban chic hotels are helping put a bright new face on hospitality.

Stunning, chic, strange – or all those things and more – boutique hotels are usually small in size but big on personality: hidden gems of luxury in some of the most beautiful and quirky settings. They are the opposite in almost every way to the well-known global hotel brands, and they’re growing in number.

Huge growth industry

Darren Seward, hotel insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, says it’s a “huge growth industry”, driven both by owners who pour heart and soul into a labour of love, and guests who appreciate the results of such passion.

Darren said: “Interesting and unique properties appeal to individuals from around the world looking for somewhere both upmarket and out of the ordinary and, in the current climate, with the means to pay for it. For these individuals, the appeal is wrapped up in the location, service, design, decor and ambience.”

Fun and quirkiness

A special interest in cars might draw someone to the PitStop boutique hotel in Hertfordshire, but owners Melvyn and Sindy Rutter say you don’t need to be a ‘car person’ to enjoy what they’ve created. Themed on Morgan cars, they refer to their property as superior accommodation with a motoring flavour.

Nor do you need to be a movie buff to see the fun and quirkiness in Hollywood Barges’ “luxury accommodation on water” at Liverpool’s Albert Dock. One of its three movie-themed narrow boats, the Joker Boat, was actually built for the character in ‘Batman’ played by Jack Nicholson, and rescued from a scrapyard in Los Angeles.

Darren says another factor in the rise in such properties is the widespread use of social media, online pictures and videos that allow travellers to see what they’re getting before they book. “It shows people want to move away from standardisation, even rebel against it,” he said. “Boutique is more about value for money. There’s a growing market for that experience.”

People have a passion for taking on “weird and wonderful buildings” and repurposing them, said Darren. “It happens a lot.” A hotel with that kind of history is more likely to carry the imprint of its owner’s personality, accentuating its individuality.

Connected travellers

Major brands have seen the trend and some, like Best Western, are actively involved. It launched Vīb as a concept for its stylish urban boutique hotels, targeting today’s ‘connected traveller’. Best Western also created a Premier collection to lend its corporate weight to independent hotels of quality and character. An interesting twist is the requirement that each of its Premier hotels maintains a rating of at least four dots, out of a possible five, on TripAdvisor, the popular travel website.

Developments such as this lead some to question whether a boutique hotel can stay truly independent if it aligns itself with one of the emerging boutique brands. As Darren points out, there are advantages to both approaches. “Your property and business is truly yours if you remain independent,” he said. “It’s a blank sheet of paper.”

Some people have multiple skills and revel in taking on an assortment of jobs, from renovation project manager to accountant to handyman. Others may see advantages in aligning with a brand and buying into its systems. The corporate umbrella might also give them better access to bank loans.

“Indies will argue you can’t be truly boutique if you’re part of a chain," said Darren. "Those aligned with a brand argue it’s a better way to grow a profitable business.” There’s no question the climate is ripe for individual properties that give their guests an “exponential experience. You only get that if the property is managed by someone local.”