Today’s Wall Street Journal (may require subscription) has a story headline that says it all “Boutique Backlash: Rethinking Ultra-Chic Hotels”. The surprise, if any, is that it has taken this long for a major publication to document customer dissatisfaction with some of the boutique products. Consumer driven rating sites like Tripadvisor have numerous accounts of poor service, ersatz furnishings and room dimensions that are more typical of a zoo cage – all in the name of ultra-chic. The article notes how the boutique boom, viewed by some owners and operators as a license to print money, seems to have forgotten hotel basics like a phone that works or a bar setting that does not intimidate and furnishings that are comfortable instead of those that look like they belong to a junkyard.
Some operators, including Ian Schrager, have expanded the boutique idea quite literally. The article notes how Mr. Schrager’s latest creation, the Grammercy Park Hotel, “is sumptuous, not minimalist, with a mammoth, hand-blown Venetian chandelier and plush, velvet furniture.” Most notably it has much larger guest rooms.
At another level, some boutiques are also “toning down their trendiness — and even reining in their raucous bars” as in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. The article quotes Stephen Brandman, chief operating officer and co-owner of Thompson Hotels which manages the Roosevelt as saying “We are, at the end of the day, a hotel.” That notion ought to have been there all along as hotels can attempt to be fashion statements to cater to fickle consumer tastes but owners do not have the luxury of displaying new wares on a catwalk every year. Fads are ephemeral and hotels need to get back to being what brings most customers in – a comfortable bed and room essentials that work in an uncluttered and non-intimidating environment.