Monday, June 18, 2012

Boutique on a Budget

I spend 270 days per year on the road. Hotels are a big part of my life… I’m nuts over the Bulgari in Milan (and now London) and Bali, all Orient Express eclectic collection, Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, The Emiliano in São Paulo, Rocco Forte’s Collection, the De L’Europe in Amsterdam and the Ritz-Carlton amazing customer love affair.

My next 4 posts will all be about some new thoughts on hotels – so if you are a luxury vagabond – in reality or in spirit, this week’s for you.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”. It suggests that a person can become an expert at something simply by having spent 10,000 hours practicing it. I guess this means I’m an expert on hotels as I’ve spent tens of thousands of hours in hotel rooms over the course of my career. It could be Dallas one day, Dubai the next. When you’re miles away from home, you pay attention to the details. Does it feel like home is the question that counts.

One trend I’ve noticed is that more hotels are offering luxury on a budget. With economic uncertainty tightening purse strings, one of the first things to get crossed off the list is luxury holidays. Consider that a hotel room costs less in 2009 than 2004. Hotel occupancy in the US dropped to 55.2% (2009) from a peak of 63.3%. The market is now showing signs of improvement, but the decline in spending has shaken hoteliers and forced them to re-think ways of capturing audience.

People never willingly choose poor service and bad experiences. They may want to pay less and do without the bells and whistles, but they still want quality. People want to feel like valued customers. They want to be surprised, and they sure want the Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy they deserve.

Here’s where boutique budget hotels have filled a niche. They don't compromise customer standards or expectations but are smart with design and service so that rates remain affordable. As for any hotel, a good boutique budget hotel always considers style, service and scale. It takes a lot of creativity and attention to detail to make $200 feel like $2000, but brands in this market are up to the challenge.

Some bold winners are Be Manos in Brussels (best described as "Sixties Soho"), the five-bedroom Château La Thuilière in Dordogne, France (outfitted with Philippe Starck and Mies Van der Rohe), and the Ace Hotel in New York where room sizes also come in Bunk and Mini. Give them a go.

2 comments:

Diary to Destiny said...

Vagabond yes. Luxury... not so much. Still, having just spent two months in South America and am now in Europe (not to mention having traveled around the world a couple of times) what I have experienced is that those who make the experience personal, who create an ambiance that is welcoming in an truly genuine sense, are the ones on my list. Recently, it would be Hostel Nothofagus in El Chalten (a rare eco-friendly hostel) and in Carcassonne it would be 45BB where the hosts Isabelle and Nicolas provide an oasis in the midst of traffic, tourists and travel.

Steve said...

In London try; www.base2stay.com :-)