Boutique Hotel. Only the words get the imagination going. Even before I dog eared the pages of Herbert Ypma’s first Hip Hotels book I was fascinated with the industry of boutique hotel properties. “How cool would it be to be the general manager of a cool boutique hotel?” I often found asking myself as I flipped through the pages of his spectacular photos. Making an effort to make a career from the hotel industry, I was convinced that I just had to be involved with a boutique hotel someday.
That someday came true, when in 2004 I had been invited to get the typical manager of the things was but still is just one of Palm Springs most hip boutique hotels. I left another huge opportunity just to be part of this amazing world. The art, the style, the vibe. I had never really worked anywhere using a “vibe”. A year later and I knew, I knew what many inside the hotel business do not…what exactly it is really want to be the gm of a hip, cool boutique hotel. It’s not for anyone and amazing for most.
There is a mini storm brewing in the boutique hotel world, one I don’t think most associated with this industry know about. With more and more boutique hotel operators entering the playground, increasingly more bad hiring decisions are made. The correct General Mangers work at the wrong hotels. Just like a square peg along with a round hole, some things just do not work. That is to blame and what you can do?
The Boutique Hotel: First allow me to first tell you that I possess a narrow take a look at what really constitutes a boutique hotel. I think that the term “Boutique” when used to describe a hotel is usually misapplied. A Savant Hotel is not defined by just a hot design, as many would argue.
A boutique hotel must be an independent operation. The hotel must not be a part of a collection that is certainly greater than say, 10 properties. Beyond this you obtain into using a corporate hierarchical management style that is needed in managing a large company and maintaining brand consistency. Take W Hotels for example. In my view these are generally not boutique hotels. They look like a boutique hotel, even feel as if one. Many boutique hotels would attempt to be as great as being a W. But a W Hotel is run and managed with a rzaufu corporation. The home level management makes not many decisions in regards to what services are available and just how the property is run. A boutique hotel has to be operated as near to the actual physical operation as you can. W’s and so forth are fantastic, but in my opinion don’t fit the concept of a boutique hotel. Boutique hotels can also be constantly re-inventing themselves, ensuring that their fickle guest never lose interest and look to stay at the latest new, hip and funky property.
Travelers made a decision to remain at a boutique hotel because of the story, or perhaps the experience. The experience is very important and must be unique and somewhat innovative. The general demographics are individuals 20 to 50 years old, work in more creative fields like advertising or entertainment and appreciate a greater level of service. When Ian Schrager entered the current market with what many consider to get the first boutique hotel, this demographic learned that they might use their travel budget buy them an area in a cool, hip hotel rather than a generic mid-level branded property. And also the boom started.
Boutique hotel guests enjoy experiences, unique architecture, leading edge home design and perhaps an urban location. The current market is expanding as well as the demographic model explained earlier is starting to bleed into others. You could very well locate a Fortune 500 CEO staying in a boutique hotel. It is hard to ignore the hype.
Luxury hotel operators are scrambling to avoid losing market share for the boutique world. Some hotels are actually utilizing the “brand” off their marketing and streamlining their operations in order that their properties are authentically boutique. Go ahead and take Kahala Mandarin Oriental for example. This famous luxury property recently took Mandarin Oriental away so they could operate and compete inside the new marketplace more independent hotels. They are simply “The Kahala” and therefore are working hard to get authentically local and independent of the major brand identification. I do believe others follows.
For the sake of this publication, I will use the luxury hotel because the comparison to the boutique as most closely associate a boutique hotel with luxury travel. So what is so different about being a general manager at a luxury hotel versus a boutique hotel? Will it really be that different? The basics are the same. The overall manager accounts for the complete everyday operation, hiring decisions, marketing, budgets, forecasting, rate strategy, facility maintenance etc… The key for kinds of properties is guest service and guest interaction. The guest in a high end luxury hotel expects to be able to interact with the resort general manager, as carry out the guests in a boutique property. It is actually all high touch.
The difference is that a boutique hotel general manager wears just a couple more hats than the luxury general manager. A boutique general manager may be preparing complex budget forecasting spreadsheets at 10am as well as at 10:30 am be clearing the pool towels from across the hotel’s salt water plunge. When was the very last time you saw the typical manager in the Peninsula Beverly Hills with an arm packed with towels? Don’t misunderstand me, I understand that the general manager in the Peninsula would do that in a second, when they needed to. The overall manager of any boutique hotel HAS to, as there is nobody else. The one server working the restaurant is also probably responsible for taking care of the pool, taking room service orders, delivering the orders and so on…. The typical manager of any boutique hotel may also be also the HR director and breaks the front desk agents. If the gm is at California then the gm may find themselves breaking almost every position in order to avoid getting sued and fined!
Take this example; you happen to be GM of any hot boutique property inside the desert. The temperature is pushing 118 degrees. Since occupancy throughout the summer is suprisingly low, you encourage lots of your team to take their vacations so you can get that vacation accrual off your books. One of those who takes you up on this is your chief engineer, among two engineers for your entire five acre property. He goes home to the motherland, Germany for any week. Now simply because it’s hot does not mean that you don’t have customers. Some tourists seem to love the warmth, so it was using this steamy day in August. As the sun actually starts to set, your guests make their way from the pool with their bungalows. Dusk and 100 degrees, everyone turns on their aged ac units full blast to allow them to cool off. Your only other engineer went home for the day. It is at concerning this time the calls start coming in. The ac units are freezing up. The previous units freeze up if they are excited full blast. Many blow the circuit breakers. So there you happen to be, inside your office doing the forecast for your weekly corporate status report call if the front desk calls you in a panic, “the guests are flipping out” cries your brand new front desk agent. You browse the calls and see that you need your engineer back on property, but his pre-paid mobile phone (you cant afford to cover a cellular phone for him) has run out of time -you cant reach him! So what do you do? You head to the rooms to try to fix them. Room by room you tackle the task of explaining for your sweaty and angry guests why they cant turn their ac on full which it will require at least a couple of hours for your ice established around the coils to melt. Then you definitely begin looking for that circuit breakers, which can be scattered all over the 60 year-old property. When you reach the last room the guest who answers the door almost screams in the sight in the sweaty, dirty general manager holding something box with a dazed look on his face. “Wasn’t this the same guy who was pouring us Mimosas in the pool today honey?” asks the guest when you begin your repairs. Once the craziness is over you get a contact your mobile phone. Yes, it really is your engineer returning your call. “You trying to reach me boss?”. The following day, throughout your conference call you listen to a speech regarding how general managers need to hang out with their guests rather than inside their offices. Duh, you believe while you try to scrub the grit out of beneath your fingernails.
The financial realities of a boutique hotel are unique. The appearance of 3 to 5 star service with a two star funds are the standard, and the gm’s get caught in the middle. The boutique hotel just lacks the budget to staff like a true luxury property and everybody needs to pull how much they weigh. The gm who does not is definitely not there long and hate every second with their lives.
Along with the additional sweat and frustration for being a boutique hotel gm are the rewards. For the best individual, they are going to find that the entrepreneurial management style required of them is extremely empowering. The gm can make a great deal of decisions on their own, decisions that in a larger corporate hotel would require an approval or worse….committee discussion! The truth that some towels have to be found and perhaps a drink or two be mixed and served is really fun to them. The rewards of always being facing your guests are what most gm’s want anyway, but many are not really ready for it while they are tasked to create that happen every single day.