My friend, Chris Cavanaugh at Magellan Strategy Group, just sent me this link (subscription required) to a WSJ story about boutique hotels. In a nutshell, the article paints a picture that boutique owners and operators face a dilemma in serving multiple audiences in their properties. The subject hotels like the Hollywood Roosevelt, Mercer (NYC) and Gansevoort (NYC) have become popular hang-outs for celeb gawking clientele interested more in “being seen” and alcohol consumption than a “hotel” experience. Of course, that strategy (and, it is a planned approach) is bound to annoy those that are looking for a quiet respite along the lines of a more traditional hotel stay as is clearly indicated by the complaint accounts documented in the story.

This brings out a couple of thoughts. Number one, not all boutique properties have this concern. Most are not catering to the “hip and loud” crowd. Boutique is often a misunderstood term, especially in the world of hotels. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word boutique: a small company that offers highly specialized services. To me, that doesn’t necessarily mean pool parties and crowded bars. On the contrary, I think it’s better to say that boutique properties are characterized as small, uniquely designed with a mix of traditional and non-traditional services making you feel special.

Number two, these particular properties (and many others) are trying to spin and sell too many stories. That gets very confusing to those of us paying the bill. You can’t be all things to all people. If you’re going to be the hip, loud, pool frenzy kind of place in downtown Hollywood, then don’t sell rooms to people looking for a quiet weekend getaway. Of course, some of the blame probably falls on the guest. If the hotel has a clear reputation for being one thing, and you’re looking for another…don’t go! Usually, it’s the property though that’s to blame for sending mixed signals of some sort.

You’ll do better to find your niche, design everything about the place (product, service, people, PR, etc.) to support that identity and let your guests take care of the rest.
I think Mr. Klein of The Argyle Hotel makes an excellent point at the conclusion of the article… "Word of mouth is the buzz I want, but not by creating a fake scene. Consumers will be fooled by that for a couple months, but eventually you need to deliver good service, good food and good beds -- and you just can't mask it with ridiculousness."