With Monty Python back on stage recently, this line from one of their sketches could not be truer as far as London is concerned.
Anyone who studies the hotel market in London will be able to pinpoint boutique hotels as a booming sector. Ten years ago the sector was thoroughly dominated by mid market brands. Nowadays there is almost a new boutique hotel opening in the capital every month. Not only have the number of openings doubled over the past three years but also the market is showing no sign of slowing down. Recently we have seen American hotelier Andre Balazs unveil his first London property, the Chiltern Firehouse in the former Marylebone Fire Station. While Ham Yard Hotel close by to London’s Theatre Land and the brainchild of Tim and Kit Kemp has been designed around a tree filled garden with a modern bronze sculpture as its centerpiece. This Autumn will see the Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair launch a collaboration with sculptor Antony Gormley who has designed a human shaped three storey installation on the end of the building concealing a hotel room in its head. Creating a hotel room on the top of a statue has been dabbled with before but this new property will clearly be a contender for the title, hotel meets art.
So why is the boutique hotel sector continuing to buck the trend as far as economic conditions are concerned and what is a boutique hotel anyway?
Let’s address the economic question first. The key reason behind the success in this sector of the industry is down to developers finding that attracting a higher RevPAR from a smaller more discerning clientele has turned out to be a winner. Selling a few covetable and exclusive rooms at a higher price is proving to be much more profitable than the continuous discounting culture that has become associated with the hotel industry in recent years.
The term boutique hotel is much hyped but do we really know what it means? I have my own view – less than 100 rooms, a bit quirky, with individual design and maybe a celebrity chef in the kitchen. However, I also took the opportunity to speak to some industry colleagues to see what their take on it was.
“A boutique is, of course, a place where ladies go to buy fashionable clothes so I guess applying the word to hotels suggests a degree of chic, modern stylishness. There are certainly plenty of smart hotels in London and major cities that now describe themselves as boutique, a genre that has been particularly embraced by the Mr & Mrs Smith representation company, although examples can also be found among the memberships of luxury consortia such as Pride of Britain. In fact it’s probably easier to say what “boutique” hotels are not: old fashioned, large, dull or cheap,” according to Peter Hancock FTS, Chief Executive, Pride Of Britain Hotels.
Tom Chesshyre, Editor of the Cool Hotel Guide featured in The Times every Saturday has reviewed countless London hotels in his time so I asked Tom what he felt represented a boutique hotel. “I think it’s a constant process involving good service and word of mouth. When it’s a small place, the personality of the owner is very important. At larger hotels it’s the energy and charm of the staff. The occasional gimmick or sale of rooms at good prices helps with continuing interest as well,” he said.
Tom is right about the gimmicks and they are becoming more elaborate. Mr Gormley’s sculpture aside, at Ham Yard you can hire the original 1950’s four lane bowling alley located in the basement for £5,000 a time. Wander into the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch and you may think you had mistakenly walked into a vinyl record store instead of the reception area. The hotel has made a big effort to get involved with the local community by hosting music events and opening a flower shop with access from the street.
With demand predicted to increase, there is no doubt that boutique hotels are here to stay and that London will continue to be one of the most sought after locations in the world when it comes to boutique accommodation.
This article by Linda Moore, HMA Committee member, appeared in the Autumn issue of Tourism, The Journal for the Tourism Industry