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Internationally Branded Hoteliers Reshaping The Boutique Hotel Landscape

During the last quarter of the 20th century internationally flagged and branded hotels were the norm with locations on 6 of 7 continents. The independent boutique hotel were an anomaly in the marketplace. Fast forward to the new millennium; the new hotel and resort landscape now includes the major international brands providing boutique style orientations to capture the burgeoning client base desiring a unique stay no matter where in the world while retaining the best attributes of the flagged brands and quality control. So what is new in the marketplace.

A bit of history: The boutique concept is not a new phenomenon. Many in the hospitality field point to Morgans as the genesis of the boutique hotel concept incorporating unique interior design and intimacy to the hotel field by one of the former owners of the famous Studio 54, Ian Schrager. The Original Morgans, opened two decades ago on a desolate section of Madison Avenue, south of Midtown Manhattan setting the foundation for the modern incarnation of what we now consider the “boutique hotel” model.

In our own backyard, The Hotel Teatro on 14th Street adjacent to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is considered one of Denver’s first boutique hotels. Known for its understated luxury, exemplary service, intimacy and premier location, The Teatro continues to cater to those who desire the unique and service orientation in lieu of larger, branded options.

The major hotel chains understood this market shift as leisure travel expanded and business travelers desired a more intimate and unique option beyond the standard chains that except for the view outside one's window could be easily interchanged no matter the location.

It was back in 1998 when Starwood launched its W Hotels bringing together the branded chain with its inherent efficiency to the boutique market offering more intimate hotels each with unique design character and an emphasis on service coupled with premier locations within Central Business Districts as well as resort settings.

During the last decade other major hoteliers have joined the boutique bandwagon. The following is general guidance concerning the branded boutiques. Do not be surprised to see a selection of the following brands enter the Denver market within the next few years.

Hyatt Hotels: Since I opened the article mentioning Hyatt it may be fitting to explore their newest brand, Andaz by Hyatt. I was personally introduced to the brand recently in New York City, yet the roots date back to 2007 with the Andaz branding placed on a Victorian-style hotel on Liverpool Street in London.

The Andaz theme (Andaz is Hindu and translates to “personal style”) is to design the hotel to reflect the local culture, a true departure from the formulaic cookie-cutter approach the parent company is known for. Having visited Andaz in New York City and Shanghai, Hyatt has been quite successful. At present Andaz offers options in the United States as well as Amsterdam and Shanghai. Be on the lookout for Andaz to be opening in Hawaii, India, additional hotels China and Costa Rica in the near future.

Marriott: While Marriott has been masters at branding based on client preferences and desires i.e. from Fairfield to JW and many levels in-between, Edition by Marriott is truly a change from the status-quo for the global brand. Edition by Marriott truly taps into the boutique zeitgeist by partnering with Ian Schreager concerning design elements.

Edition by Marriott caters to both business and leisure travelers capturing the knowledge base of Marriott International. Rooms are comfortable and inviting yet with a design theme mixing contemporary design with practicality, a combination that has proven to be successful. The locations at present are urban-based in keeping with the boutique theme with a hotel in popular Istanbul and planned openings in Bangkok, London, New York and Miami Beach. Do not be surprised to see Edition by Marriott as part of a mixed-use hotel and residential design expanding the Edition theme to condominium buyers.

Starwood: While Starwood set the foundation with their W brand; W is now the granddaddy of the movement. Most recently Starwood launched Element by Starwood. While keeping with the boutique theme and having learned not only from W but also Westin and Aloft, Element offers two unique propositions. First the rooms are designed in the vein of an open loft-design, thus presenting options to guests regardless of the reason for their visit i.e. business, leisure, both. Second, Element is pushing the eco-friendly concept including designing their physical plant to be energy-efficient.

While many hotels and resorts have embraced eco-friendly practices i.e. reuse of towels and so forth, Element by Starwood is truly looking long-term by designing their physical plant to be energy-efficient for the present and the future.

InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG): IHG is not a household name however their hotel brands are ubiquitous in the transient stay business with management of 4,400+ hotels worldwide including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Staybridge, Candlewood and others.

Hotel Indigo by Intercontinental is considered one of the boutique foundations as the brand was launched in 2004 with an opening in Atlanta. In the decade since its inception, Indigo has opened 36 locations in the United States and 12 in Europe. Most recently the Indigo Brand has opened in Asia including Indigo on the Bund in Shangahi of which I visited recently.

The Indigo Brand captures the local culture in their hotel and room design. The Shanghai location, in addition to being premier (The Bund is the a riverfront promenade in Shangahi with many examples of art-deco architecture) concerning location, the public areas and rooms capture the true opulence and essence of Shanghai of the 1920’s and 30’s using locally sourced materials and designs to evoke a sense of place. The Indigo Brand uses the same theme of local experience throughout the chain. Of note I will be writing about Shangahi in the near future.

Taj: While Taj is now a well known brand in the United States with just a handful of hotels i.e. New York, Boston, San Francisco, many international travelers know of the India based chain. Considered on par with Four Seasons, The Ritz-Carlton and other upscale brands; the Taj brand is just one entity in a multi-tiered grouping of hotels and resorts. For us in the industry, Taj Group is the Marriott of India.

In 2010 The Taj Group rebranded 19 of their hotels in India to Vivanta by Taj, internally considered “upper-upscale”. While unknown in the United States travelers to India as well as the Maldives and Sri Lanka have the opportunity to enjoy the Vivanta by Taj brand.

This newest brand for most would be considered luxury with a boutique orientation. For those who are familiar with Taj, the Indian company is known for its exceptional locations, beautiful buildings coupled with service of a bygone era. I have personally visited Taj Hotels in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Cape Town and I am always impressed and concede if all hotels were run like Taj, I would travel even more.

Vivanta may be best described as luxury for the next generation. Travelers who desire the opulence of Taj and its peers yet also desire more modern amenities, technology and services more comfortable to a younger traveler. As one confident advised, your parents will stay at a Taj, their kids will stay at a Vivanta.

Within the Denver market there are a few examples of the internationally branded boutique hotels. My best guesstimate we will see openings within the next few years in Downtown and Cherry Creek, two markets with density and geography that can support such concepts. Also I would assume developers in the mountain resort towns are also considering such options to attract additional international clientele.