What Is A Boutique Hotel? Here’s My Take…

What Is A Boutique Hotel? Here’s My Take…

31

Am I the only one who thinks some hotels are stretching the truth a bit by referring to themselves as boutique?

What I consider to be a boutique hotel

In the hospitality industry, “boutique” is a phrase that has been increasingly used to describe hotels. The way I view it, there are a few traits that make a hotel boutique:

  • It’s small — a mega hotel can’t be considered boutique
  • It has a cool and/or unique design — a cookie-cutter hotel can’t be considered boutique, even if it’s small
  • It’s upscale or luxury — in general I think that a run down two star hotel can’t be considered boutique

I’d like to think my interpretation of a boutique hotel makes sense, since the word “boutique” is defined as follows:

a business or establishment that is small and sophisticated or fashionable

The 36-room Amanruya Bodrum is certainly a boutique hotel

Can a big hotel be considered boutique?

I was just looking at the new Thompson Denver (opening in early 2022), and I couldn’t help but notice how the hotel is described as a “216-room luxury boutique hotel.” Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t consider a 200+ room hotel to be boutique.

That got me looking at other Thompson properties, and noticing that they’re all described as “boutique.” That includes the 247-room Thompson Chicago, as well as the 287-room The Beekman New York. I love the Thompson brand, and I’d consider the hotels to be luxurious and stylish, but I wouldn’t consider them to be boutique purely because of the size.

Now, I suppose it could be argued that these hotels are small, relatively speaking. The Thompson Chicago is small compared to the 2,032-room Hyatt Regency Chicago, and The Beekman is small compared to the 1,966-room Marriott Marquis New York. But still, I’m not sure what’s what we should be comparing hotel sizes to.

I’m not sure where exactly I draw the line on size:

  • My gut says that if a hotel has more than 200 rooms, it’s definitely not boutique; to me, ideally a boutique hotel would have under 100 rooms
  • I do think there should be some consideration for the location of a hotel — in other words, I might consider a 150-room hotel in New York City to be boutique, while I might not consider a 150-room hotel in the Maldives to be boutique

Of course ultimately I understand why hotels are choosing to market this way. The major hotel groups keep growing, and they love using all the buzzwords that they think millennial want to hear — authentic, distinctive, boutique, etc.

The Thompson Chicago doesn’t look boutique to me

Bottom line

A lot of hotels like to market themselves as being boutique. To me a boutique hotel is one that’s small, has a cool design, and is at least upscale. Personally I have a hard time considering a hotel with over 200 rooms to be boutique, but maybe that’s just me.

So, OMAAT readers — how do you define a boutique hotel? Is there a size limit? Also, bonus points to the person who can find the hotel with the highest room count that refers to itself as “boutique.”

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  1. Emily

    I would also add to the list of qualities which make a boutique hotel: the hotel must be independently run and not part of a major brand. It truly must be a one-off and it's services and quality must not be influenced by third parties. A boutique hotel must be luxurious, have highly personalized service, and offer a unique experience. Stars do not matter as much to me since some of the loveliest boutique hotels...

    I would also add to the list of qualities which make a boutique hotel: the hotel must be independently run and not part of a major brand. It truly must be a one-off and it's services and quality must not be influenced by third parties. A boutique hotel must be luxurious, have highly personalized service, and offer a unique experience. Stars do not matter as much to me since some of the loveliest boutique hotels I have stayed at don't bother to get ranked but maintain a solid 5-star reputation. In fact, it is this disregard for the convention that make boutique hotels fantastic. I love staying at boutique hotels (I know it's not common on this blog do). No hotel that is part of a chain will qualify as a boutique hotel.

  2. Stephen Morrissey

    Weii,
    That throws cold water on my understanding of the word.

    So, to clarify, boutique is not the wood used on a ghost ship during halloween?

  3. Bganley

    Marriott Vacation Club states that its NYC Pulse location is comparable to a boutique hotel. It is not.

  4. Leccy

    I have stayed in a few small hotels which have called themselves boutique. The general rules appears to be: (1) rooms will be small and impractical. A desk is a no-no and if you must have somewhere to sit down a tree stump will suffice. (2) Decor must include black paint (3) It won’t have a full food and drink service but may have a bar which doubles as a night club (4) it follows...

    I have stayed in a few small hotels which have called themselves boutique. The general rules appears to be: (1) rooms will be small and impractical. A desk is a no-no and if you must have somewhere to sit down a tree stump will suffice. (2) Decor must include black paint (3) It won’t have a full food and drink service but may have a bar which doubles as a night club (4) it follows that it won’t have room service. (5) there is a 50:50 chance it will be in a grungy downtown area.

    Have I missed anything?

  5. Carrie

    A boutique hotel is by nature a small establishment offering luxuriously appointed rooms, exquisite service and sophisticated amenity. For each traveller, the details of this definition will vary wildly and that is why this discussion is such a conundrum and much appreciated. Please keep posing these delightful questions.

  6. Mh

    Not sure the pictured Amanruya Bodrum is even boutique. Don't know it, but the picture suggests more resort than boutique. But it could just be the picture.

    1. Emily

      Agreed. The Amanruya Bodrum would not qualify a a boutique hotel in my book.

  7. Jim

    For me, a boutique hotel is a smaller non-corporate establishment in a culturally interesting neighborhood. A good boutique hotel is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable with rooms averaging $125-250/night. It has to provide a certain level of funkiness to the vibe.

    The misuse of terms reminds me of staying in a homestay in India. What I was hoping for was my own bedroom and home cooked meals in a family’s home. In reality, it was...

    For me, a boutique hotel is a smaller non-corporate establishment in a culturally interesting neighborhood. A good boutique hotel is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable with rooms averaging $125-250/night. It has to provide a certain level of funkiness to the vibe.

    The misuse of terms reminds me of staying in a homestay in India. What I was hoping for was my own bedroom and home cooked meals in a family’s home. In reality, it was more like a bed and breakfast or small hotel.

  8. Indopithecus

    A 'boutique' hotel needs to be small, distinctive, luxurious, and not part of a chain (with rare exceptions). There are plenty of properties like that but the descriptor is being abused by marketers.

  9. Motion to Dismiss

    If it's a chain hotel it's not boutique.

  10. Sean

    Anything over 40 or 50 rooms is definitely not boutique.

  11. Matt

    Are clothing optional male only hotels in Ft Lauderdale or Palm Springs considered boutique?

    1. Brewer

      “Clothing- optional male resorts” run the gamut. Pineapple Point or Santiago might be described as boutique properties, but the same wouldn’t be said of Inn Leather or INNdulge. They are really just an entirely different category of lodging.

  12. jeffers

    Just booked the Mango House Seychelles, LXR.

    At 41 rooms I'd say that's pretty boutique.

  13. Brodie

    Boutique cannot be honestly used to describe a Thompson property. It’s all marketing bullshit to pull in paying customers. Here are examples of a couple great boutique hotels:

    https://lazebratulum.com/

    https://www.catchajamaica.com/

  14. Bob

    Anything that is a chain is not boutique. Simple.

  15. uaflyer

    I personally only think of small (10-30 rooms), non-chain affiliated *city* hotels as being boutique hotels (e.g. Ivy Hotel in Baltimore or The Aubrey in Santiago). To me, most Amans are definitely not boutique hotels. They are luxury hotels or resorts.

    There are many small, luxury accommodations outside of cities (e.g., Twin Farms, Clayoquot, Ranch at Rock Creek), but they tend to be marketed as ultra-luxury "lodges," "inns," or "ranches."

  16. Super

    To me, other facets of the Boutique definition is that a hotel should have an intimate connection to its surrounding environment. I'd argue that means most chain hotels cannot call themselves Boutique. So even if you're at a 30-room St. Regis, it absolutely would not be Boutique because St. Regis hotels all have non-specific design. You could be in one in Hong Kong or Dallas and not know the difference from inside.

    1. Mike

      Gotta agree with super here. It’s one of those things tht even if ton struggle to define - when you see it, you know

  17. Eskimo

    It's a marketing term to overcharge anything by 20%. Just like the term organic.

  18. DCS

    'Boutique' : a business or establishment that is small and sophisticated or fashionable

    Think of 'boutique' as what Hyatt tried to accomplish with their loyalty program when they went from HGP to WoH; small, 'fashionable' and expensive to patronize. It's mostly marketing fluff designed to convey ' high value' by seeming exclusive...

  19. pstm91

    Even 100 rooms is quite large when you think about it. I think of a boutique hotel as being small (at most 50ish rooms), and unique. I have a hard time describing a a hotel that is part of chain as boutique, such as your Aman example towards the top. I would describe it as "boutique-y", for lack of a better phrase, but a true boutique should be independent.

  20. Marco Duprè

    In Europe a boutique hotel is a small hotel with just max 20 rooms, normally hosted in a old beautiful building in the city centre, managed directly by the owners/
    entrepreneurs who created the hotel concept. That type of hotel offers some creative services that normally standard hotels doesn't offer (food experiences, visits to private owned palaces, tours to some unknown natural beauties around the city...) and as a host you fill like staying...

    In Europe a boutique hotel is a small hotel with just max 20 rooms, normally hosted in a old beautiful building in the city centre, managed directly by the owners/
    entrepreneurs who created the hotel concept. That type of hotel offers some creative services that normally standard hotels doesn't offer (food experiences, visits to private owned palaces, tours to some unknown natural beauties around the city...) and as a host you fill like staying in a private home. Bigger hotels are just called design hotels.

    1. Mark

      I am Italian and I fully agree with the 20 rooms limit.
      We know that everything is bigger in the USA, but I can't really imagine a 150 rooms "boutique hotel"

    2. uaflyer

      I fully agree with this. To me, a boutique hotel is usually in a city and has a "family-run" feel to it, almost as though you are staying in someone's house. You usually get to interact with one of the owners or someone who helped create the concept, not the latest GM that was appointed by "corporate."
      While certainly fancy, massive resorts like the 18,000 acre Amanruya or the LVMH-run Cheval Blanc Randheli lack...

      I fully agree with this. To me, a boutique hotel is usually in a city and has a "family-run" feel to it, almost as though you are staying in someone's house. You usually get to interact with one of the owners or someone who helped create the concept, not the latest GM that was appointed by "corporate."
      While certainly fancy, massive resorts like the 18,000 acre Amanruya or the LVMH-run Cheval Blanc Randheli lack this feeling, even if they have relatively low room counts.

  21. Grey

    My favourite hotel chain is probably MGallery. There are several MGallery hotels that are quite big, but I would consider most of them boutique because they feel unique enough and are generally able to offer a high standard of service. For me, a boutique hotel is one that doesn't feel like a chain and doesn't feel too corporate. I think this is much harder to achieve when you have more rooms, but not impossible.

  22. Golfball1

    I also think a boutique hotel can be a re-purposed building. I like the hotels that used to be something else, regardless of brand. For example the Marriott's Autograph, The Citizen, in Sacramento. It is a re-purposed Law Library (i think) very unique. I definitely consider that and hotels using unique building as boutique. Just my two cents!!

  23. Bobby J

    There's another criterion I use when evaluating a hotel's "boutique" status. If the hotel has banquet space or meeting facilities, it immediately loses the "boutique" label - regardless of how many rooms it has or where it is located.

  24. MildMidwesterner

    It's a sad fact for the readers of OMAAT, but a boutique hotel does not have a points program.

  25. Steve

    Its just marketing, people with money are always susceptible to marketing. We pay more for things that are "craft, boutique, local, sustainable" without even bothering to check or care if those things are true because we feel good about ourselves for supporting a false narrative. There is no downside for any hotel to not use these marketing terms to make them seem small because in 2021 we have this idea that big and corporate is...

    Its just marketing, people with money are always susceptible to marketing. We pay more for things that are "craft, boutique, local, sustainable" without even bothering to check or care if those things are true because we feel good about ourselves for supporting a false narrative. There is no downside for any hotel to not use these marketing terms to make them seem small because in 2021 we have this idea that big and corporate is bad and small is good. It is why people in Texas will only drink topo chico because its "craft, local and organic" even though Coca-Cola owns it. It's basic marketing to call your hotel boutique.

Featured Comments Load all 31 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Marco Duprè

In Europe a boutique hotel is a small hotel with just max 20 rooms, normally hosted in a old beautiful building in the city centre, managed directly by the owners/ entrepreneurs who created the hotel concept. That type of hotel offers some creative services that normally standard hotels doesn't offer (food experiences, visits to private owned palaces, tours to some unknown natural beauties around the city...) and as a host you fill like staying in a private home. Bigger hotels are just called design hotels.

MildMidwesterner

It's a sad fact for the readers of OMAAT, but a boutique hotel does not have a points program.

Brewer

“Clothing- optional male resorts” run the gamut. Pineapple Point or Santiago might be described as boutique properties, but the same wouldn’t be said of Inn Leather or INNdulge. They are really just an entirely different category of lodging.

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