Boutique surfeit?

MSNBC’s travel section notes the rise of boutique hotels in the Far-East with Hong Kong and Singapore leading the trend in the region. And now Shanghai seems to be the next locale getting the boutique treatment while “meeting the fast-growing demand among design-conscious travelers for a more intimate, personal environment”. The article in MSNBC/Newsweek points out that “the trend for boutique hotels started in New York and London in the mid-’80s, but was slow to catch on in Asia”. The top picks for that part of the world by Newsweek are:

1) New Majestic, Singapore
Concept: Each room in this converted Chinatown shop house was decorated by a different local artist, creating a quirky but ultrachic atmosphere.
2) Reflections, Bangkok
Concept: Individualistic and funky, whether one’s taste runs to pink princess, Rhapsody Bohemian or the tranquil romance of the Taj Mahal.
3) Jia Hong, Kong
Concept: designed by Philippe Starck, the rooms have a stylish, minimalist feel with a dash of modern baroque.

Newsweek notes that “boutique hotels typically attract an Internet-savvy, younger crowd of working professionals. They have little need or desire for the posh features a five-star hotel typically offers, like a large business center or sumptuous dining. What matters most to them is location—being in the coolest neighborhood—and the little touches, from gourmet chocolate on the side table to organic juice in the fridge”.

All very well, but the arriviste hoteliers of Asia should take note of what is happening with the boutique run in the US where hotels are tripping over themselves to offer technology bonanzas such as VOIP phone systems; flat screen IPTVs; MP3 players, digital cameras, and other devices that can connect to in-room A/V devices. Others include new docking devices that accommodate Smartphone and Pocket PC phone devices, offering direct access to the hotel system.

The notion of a boutique hotel is also being continually redefined with luxury operators scrambling to avoid losing market share to the upstarts. Which accounts for numerous “brands” being rolled out by the majors – the question is whether that will result in a blurring of lines as large corporations (despite the success of W) are unlikely to provide the quaintly non-uniform aspects of a boutique that consumers expect from such hostelry. Ultimately, a surfeit of similarly designed boutiques may well spark their demise.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.