HandC News was delighted to join the boutique hotel industry when it descended on London last week for the second staging of the Boutique Hotel Summit, Europe’s only b2b conference for the boutique and lifestyle hotels sectors.
Held at Altitude London, on the banks of the Thames, the conference attracted more than 220 attendees from as far afield as Beirut, Dubai, Ghana, Sweden, Malta, Italy, France, the US, the Caribbean, Spain and Ireland.
A comprehensive seminar agenda featured sessions on marketing, finance, technology, art & design, sustainability, food & beverage, and much more. And a myriad of networking opportunities included a “speed dating” business card swap, cocktail reception and hotel tour.
Event organiser Piers Brown was delighted with the way the Summit has grown and developed:
“Attendance is up by around 50 per cent, we had a terrific list of speakers and the networking sessions really brought people together. A very encouraging development has been the buzz the event has created on Twitter. Many of our delegates were tweeting during the event, and their output has been the basis of a lively worldwide discussion online.”
The booming sector
The boutique hotel sector is booming and both small independents and large multi-nationals are investing heavily to establish a presence in this dynamic market. Hotels tailored to this sector are opening at an ever-increasing rate, defying tough economic conditions. IHG’s Hotel Indigo, for example, has 44 hotels operational and – apparently – a further 53 in development.
And London in particular looks set to support this sector in the coming months, with occupancy levels looking very good: Sarah Duignan from STR reported that, despite an increase in overall supply of 15% in the 12 months to March 2012, there was an occupancy rate of 82.5% – apparently unaffected by the increase in supply.
With overall RevPAR at £110.61, Boutique and Upscale hotels were also very strong: Boutique at £163.40, just under the Upscale rate.
Keynote from Campbell Gray
Gordon Campbell Gray, chairman of Campbell Gray Hotels – a man who has travelled the world visiting hotels and assessing their strengths and weaknesses – offered his insights into the sector, encouraging delegates to think for themselves, prioritise what the guest wants, and consider the real benefits of independence. His points included:
- The dangers of brands and brand standards: cardboard covers placed over glasses of orange juice are fine, but no substitute for poor quality orange juice! Get your priorities right: quality is more important than branding.
- Greeting guests by name can be positive, but not if every member of staff does so – incessantly! Such brand or corporate policies can become both excessive and intrusive, and drive guests away.
- The internet (and social media) is a great tool for independents, who can use it and flourish. Do they actually still need to be part of a chain or brand to market and promote themselves?
- The ‘Intelligent Guest’ does exist! Guests are capable of assessing what’s on offer, deciding what they actually need and want, and deciding what they want to pay for it: increasingly, hotels who provide what is not needed, at a price that is not wanted, will lose out.
- Boutique hotels should not ignore ‘green issues’: their guests will not. The economy may have persuaded some to step back from sustainability and investing in it, but hotel guests are not ignoring it, and are making decisions to which it contributes.
General Managers speak out
An interesting session later in the afternoon saw a panel of four GMs discussing a range of topics exploring the challenges of their jobs within boutique hotels, and echoing earlier remarks by Gordon Campbell Gray on the need to transform perceptions of the hospitality industry, provide the right training and support, and overcome the unwillingness of (some) young people to work hard.
Though accepting that perceptions of the industry needed to be changed, there was agreement that the industry was too ready to use ‘they don’t like hard work’ as an excuse, instead of investing time and effort into motivating, supporting and rewarding those entering the industry.
Other pearls of wisdom from the GMs included:
- Independents can compete with the big brands, but must focus on staying unique and delivering an outstanding guest experience.
- Relationships with OTAs must be carefully managed for best results: it’s a given that they take a proportion of business, and their commission, but it should be ‘in addition to’ not ‘instead of’ direct business.
- Consider carefully how important the restaurant is to your overall business: it’s a major and ongoing investment, particularly in an area that’s well supplied with restaurants – what share of guest dining will it achieve, can it attract non-guests? Does it service conferences or events held in the hotel?
- Don’t compromise on maintenance: the ongoing investment may be a struggle, but lack of investment will quickly be visible to guests.
- TripAdvisor ratings: who can afford to ignore them? It’s essential to monitor your own, and those of your competition. Social Media is widely used by guests, so must be a priority. Is the Hotel Communications Manager arriving as a role?
- The future: GMs expect to become even more interactive with their staff, guests, stakeholders and shareholders – there’s no substitute for direct contact with all of them when running a successful business.
Boutique hotels represent a considerable success story over recent years, and one that is clearly set to continue, with lessons for the wider hotel industry. The international representation at the successful Boutique Hotel Summit demonstrates that this is a success story that is set to run and expand for some years yet: H&C News looks forward to future Summits, and the developments they will feature.
More information can be seen here www.boutiquehotelsummit.com