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What is a boutique hotel?

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Since bursting onto the scene in the eighties, the boutique hotel is a concept that has shown considerable staying power. But what does the term actually mean?

Stylish interior design in boutique hotels Chiron Hotel Consulting

Who knows whether the boutique hotel trend will continue to grow?

A ‘boutique hotel’ usually conjures up the image of a property with.... hand-crafted furniture, high ceilings strung with chandeliers and edgy exposed brick walls; unique art-work, stylish coffee table books on display and a real sense of place; stand-alone claw-foot baths full of bubbles, large roaring fireplaces and opulent four poster beds with crisp white sheets.

However, where did the term come from and when did we start labeling hotels this way?

Definition of a boutique hotel Chiron Hotel Consulting

Where did the term originate?

Boutique is defined as 'a business or establishment that is small and sophisticated or fashionable.'

The term 'boutique hotel' was first used in the hospitality industry in the early 1980s to denote an independent hotel.

The idea was to differentiate from high-rise Hilton-style resorts and homely B&Bs, inns or guesthouses. Instead, a boutique hotel was a property that had some of the functions and facilities of a hotel but with its own style, rather than run by an established cookie-cutter global brand.

Stylish boutique hotel in Greece

The boutique hotels that are said to have started the now global phenomenon include....

  • Blakes hotel in London

  • The Bedford in San Francisco (the first Kimpton hotel; the brand is now owned by IHG)

  • Morgan’s in New York (now closed)

Anouska Hempel - founder of Blakes and The Hempel hotel (now closed) - is credited with starting the world's very first boutique hotel. However, this is contested and there is no formal 'first' property that the industry agrees on.

Where hospitality insiders are in agreement, is that these were the properties that would go on to inspire a new wave of hoteliers and boutique hotel owners.

Famous boutique hotels around the world with chic interior design

Boutique hotel; a definition

Based on these trail-blazer properties, boutique hotels definitely have some, but not necessarily all, of the qualities below:

  1. Less than 40 rooms, all of which differ from one another

  2. Sense of place and ties to a particular location and its community

  3. An emphasis on architecture, design and interiors (normally high quality)

  4. Unique style/theme that goes against the commercial grain

  5. Creative and/or charming, perhaps even anti-establishment, feel

  6. Focus on art and artwork

  7. Restaurant or dining venue focused on local, organic, alternative and cutting-edge food

  8. Owner-run or associated with a particular figure (perhaps in the entertainment business, interior design or creative industries).

Boutique hotels with restaurants

The future

For some time now, the term boutique has slowly become of the most overused words in the industry. Everything seems to now qualify as 'boutique hotel', whether it’s a small country guesthouse or a 300-room corporate hotel with on-trend branding.

This has led to a general sense of confusion about what the term boutique really means, but interestingly, not a sense of fatigue.

The trend looks as if it's going nowhere fast and is still used to add value to properties all over the world. The most recent incarnations are large hospitality conglomerates labeling a property as unique to communicate that their new hotel isn't corporate, large and soulless.

Stylish interior design in boutique hotels

Who knows whether the boutique hotel trend will continue to grow?

Either way, we would love to hear from you; what’s your definition of a boutique hotel? Do you agree with the above? Is the term confusing? We’d love to know more in the comments below.

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