Part of the appeal of boutique hotels is that they provide guests with an experience far-removed from that of cookie cutter. Though diverse in style and geographic locations, some common threads emerge to shine a light on what makes boutique hotels appealing to guests.
Upscale boutique hotels have traditionally attracted older, more-affluent travellers, but millennials are keen to spend money on experiences and have also been drawn to the segment. The boutique appeal resonates with a wide range of travellers, however, women seem to be driving the decisions, according to Madone Pelan, director of Sales and Marketing for the 100-room Oak Bay Beach Hotel in Victoria, B.C. She says marketing materials for the hotel are geared toward women aged 25 to 45 years old.
“On the younger end, we see many brides to be. Boutiques offer so much for a wedding,” she says, adding women in their 30s are often seeking a wellness or a girls’ getaway.
While most boutique hotels feature fewer rooms or suites than their big-brand counterparts, size alone doesn’t define them — it’s their exclusivity that’s so appealing to guests. “In the past, when you heard the words boutique hotel, it was because of the uniqueness of that hotel. They had their own segment of people who could [afford to] stay in exclusive properties,” says Antoine Naoum, general manager of Montreal’s Le Mount Stephen Hotel — a luxury five-star boutique hotel boasting 90 rooms and suites, set in the Renaissance-style former mansion of Lord George Stephen.
When it comes down to it, today’s savvy traveller is in search of an authentic, hyper-local experience and wow factor — the comforts of home, times 10.
At Le Mount Stephen, guests are able to experience a fantastic piece of Montreal’s history and Naoum says he takes care to greet each guest with a handwritten note.
“The number-1 thing is emotional engagement and, with smaller properties, you can accomplish this. You can spend time with the guests, reflect the local culture and tell a story,” he says. “Guests are looking for the heritage, the emotional attachment.”
Michelle Gaudet is media-relations specialist for Pursuit Collection, which operates travel experiences at the Mount Royal Hotel in Banff, Alta. Opened in 1907 and restored in 2018, following a fire in 2016, this historic building holds an important place in the mountain town. “Mount Royal is more than just a hotel. Set in the centre of town, it’s been the heart of Banff since the early days,” says Gaudet. “Part of the rebuilding process was to honour the past. This hotel offers a reflection of the town — it tells the town’s story. Guests want quality experiences in the places they travel to and an interesting story reflecting that place.”
Being located in the heart of a city or, even more specifically, in the heart of a certain neighbourhood, is a growing trend among boutiques, according to Justin Fong, co-owner/operator of The Annex Hotel — a new concept located in one of Toronto’s most historic neighbourhoods — The Annex.
“The neighbourhood is eclectic, with some legacy businesses lining its streets,” says Fong. “Our guests really love that — they feel like Torontonians.” He also notes that his team has a second site in mind for expansion, in another hyper-local Toronto neighbourhood.
“A lot of what you see in boutique hotels is passion projects,” says Pelan. The iconic, family-operated Tudor-manor hotel was built in 1927 and, in 2006, underwent a unique reimagining. The owners decided that instead of renovating, they would rebuild it, using its original parts. They spent six months dismantling the building and, over the course of the six years it took to rebuild, reincorporated the parts into the new design — positioning the hotel as a luxury property with a story.
P.E.I.’s Holman Grand Hotel in Charlottetown, opened in 2011, tells the story of the former Holman’s Department Store — a long-time P.E.I. institution established in 1857. The hotel sits on the site of the former department store and incorporates design elements such as the original logo and brickwork. “Holman’s Department Store was so huge on P.E.I. and we’re honoured to have a hotel with the same name and the same type of look,” says Suellen Clow-Munro, Sales and Marketing manager for the Holman Grand.
The Little Things
The autonomy of boutique properties allows operators to utilize unique local vendors and offer specialty amenities. For example, The Annex’s guestrooms come stocked with locally sourced snacks, including cold-brewed coffee, kombucha and protein bars, plus a mini-fridge curated with Canadian spirits. “We’ve reimagined the mini-bar,” says Fong.
To tap into the hyper-local experience, The Annex features local restaurants. The Annex Commons, its 3,200-sq.-ft. F&B facility on the ground floor of the hotel, features Seven Lives Tacos and Big Trouble Pizza. “We don’t brand them with our branding, but let them showcase their [own] brands,” says Fong.
The Annex also offers some pioneering amenities. Instead of TVs, guestrooms are equipped with 13-inch iPad Pros with streaming capability, which affords a unique level of portability — allowing guests to take them with them as they explore. “We want our guests to have fun exploring the area,” says Fong. “We’ve [even] highlighted a map of places we think they’d like to check out.”
Locally inspired decor adorns the walls in the guestrooms at P.E.I.’s Holman Grand, with blues, greens and reds to represent the province. While the exterior of the building is historic, inside, guestrooms are modern, with hardwood floors and a rustic-chic look. “It gives a kind of clean, homey feel,” says Clow-Munro.
Like many boutique properties, Oak Bay Beach Hotel features little touches that tie in with the locale. “For example, in all of our rooms, we offer a French press with local coffee,” says Pelan. “Everything here is very unique to who we are, right down to our Boathouse [Spa] with heated mineral bath,” she says.
And concierges at Oak Bay Beach take time to customize each guest’s stay. “Prior to their arrival, our concierge will reach out to every guest and help with anything they might need,” says Pelan.
This level of service goes without saying at Le Mount Stephen. “I have Golden-Key (Les Clefs d’Or) concierges who look after every detail,” says Naoum, adding he personalizes every detail for each guest. “No two guests are alike.”
Written by Marina Davalos