What are Boutique Hotels? God knows, maybe. Searching online you will likely find conflicting gibberish. Even Wikipedia is happy to spout a gumbo of mumbo-jumbo. My favourite line here “Guest rooms and suites may be fitted with telephone and wifi internet, air-conditioning, honesty bars and often cable/pay TV but sometimes none of these, focusing on quiet and comfort rather than gadgetry“. Who the **** writes this stuff. With so little help online I was forced to consult the Oxford Dictionary where we find; “boutique hotel, noun, a stylish small hotel, typically one situated in a fashionable urban location“. Negate everything after ‘typically’ and we have ‘a stylish small hotel’. So a boutique hotel is a “stylish small hotel”. What is stylish? Everyone to their own I guess. What is small…. This is why the term is so ambiguous. To spout my own terminology I would say a Boutique Hotel is a Hotel with between 10 and 70 rooms. With others claiming 100 guestrooms the cut off I only do this to be different. To me this is what boutique is about. It is about daring to be different. Being creative, unique and individual and to negate the safety of the mass tourist market. This creativity and individualism best shown through style or design. For this reason the term “Design Hotel” has become easily interchangeable with “Boutique Hotel”. To make things more confusing the term “Hip Hotel” was shoved in the mix. I hate it. I’d rather be shot than be hip. Anyway the term “Boutique Hotel” means small hotel and this is what I stick to and so should others. While pretension argues for the “Classic Boutique Style” suited to a chic Parisian backstreet this doesn’t fly worldwide.
The Hotel is the Destination
To me what creates a great Boutique Hotel is the setting and how the hotel adapts and contrasts with surroundings. To me a Classic Boutique Hotel in Singapore is just weird. It doesn’t fit with what surrounds it. It is like travelling the world to hang out in Irish Bars. The experience is skewed. Therefore concept and design should always reflect local surroundings. Staying in downtown Bangkok? Try a slick, urban suite. A stopover in colonial Penang? How about a boutique, heritage hotel. As a traveller this is how I best experience a destination. After all I spend more time in the hotel than anywhere else when travelling.
The Boutique Hotel Experience
For the above reason I no longer see Boutique Hotels as a niche but as a collection of niches. A number which is potentially endless. The main feature of each is their individual focus on creating unique experiences through design. Without it Boutique Hotels would find it hard to differentiate from the larger, blander hotels. The main problem being that most benefits found at Boutique Hotels are intangible and service related. The benefits which go overlooked in decision making. Bar aesthetic value Boutique Hotels offer a feel of intimacy and personal touch. They also go under the radars of mass tourism as tour companies and operators favor large hotels and safe international brands.
Design is for Everyone
A misconception with Boutique Hotels is the exclusivity. Expectations of hipsters at long bars sipping cocktails from hats. This is very wrong. Through my many Boutique Hotel Experiences I have never found this pretension. Fact is; you don’t need to understand design to to enjoy it. Anyone can. And in most cases the added value of design comes at no extra cost. Unfortunately this exclusivity is often pushed by the Boutique Hotel booking sites. Rarely do they offer or promote the budget options in the market. In reality boutique hotels range from low-end to luxury. In my travels I’ve stayed in cool flashpacker, design hostels to private, boutique pool villas. (I highlight this inclusivity on my travel site Boutique Bangkok). To choose a personal preference I always go for a minimal design. As Di Vinci says ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication’. Hard to argue. I also prefer authenticity in local hardwoods and materials; like a beautiful teak and batik in Bali.
I am writing this post from the small Thai city of Korat. I sit in the hotel lobby snapping pics on my ipad like a Korati cool kid (and posting bad quality images). Today I stay at the trendiest hotel in Korat; the V-One Trendy and Boutique Hotel. Throw a Classic Boutique fiend in here and they’ll leave in an epileptic fit. For many boutique fans this place maybe garish and ugly. To the locale it is new and exciting. It is a welcome addition to the surrounding setting of moldy concrete. In this case escaping through design. In Korat they primarily target local and domestic tourism as international tourists are next to none.