What Is a Boutique Hotel and How is it Different?
Decades ago, lodging experiences fell into a few distinct categories.
You could splurge on pricey suites at a flashy big-name hotel with room service and beach side balconies.
Or spend two weeks at a mid-range hotel, lounging poolside, dining at the on-site restaurant, and playing pick-up tennis matches.
Or choose the sketchy motel down a back alley, listed at a quarter of the price with few amenities.
And then the 1980s came along and changed everything.
Boutique hotels quickly emerged on the scene with a brand new option.
They were a luxurious alternative for travelers who couldn’t afford a five-star stay. They spoke to a crowd ready to engulf themselves in the local culture with a more personal, sophisticated lodging experience.
What exactly are boutique hotels like nowadays? And, as a business traveler, why should you book a suite at a boutique?
Before you book your next business trip, read this!
What Is a Boutique Hotel?
Boutique hotels are quaint, sophisticated, and intimate luxury hotels. They’re especially popular with the hipster and Millennial crowds. These hotels typically have 10–100 guest rooms and put an unconventional (and sometimes quirky) spin on traditional lodging.
The boutique hotel experience thrives off the heart of the surrounding area and the booming personality of its unique amenities and interior design.
For example, The George (in upper-class Montclair, New Jersey) offers a fitting historical touch for an area rich in American history. Its 31 elegant rooms display old-fashioned paintings of presidents John F. Kennedy and George Washington and antique-style furniture. It’s also located in the heart of Montclair’s urban district and is a quick cab ride away from the city.
But boutique hotels are more than just a temporary home-away-from-home.
- Host private tours of hidden gems within the city
- Offer celebrity-chef dining options
- Include pet-friendly rooms
- Provide unique common areas (like gardens)
- Have a concierge staff that knows guests’ names
One thing’s for sure: every boutique hotel has its own flair.
The History of Boutique Hotels
The first boutique hotel was the Morgans Hotel in New York City (Manhattan). Hoteliers Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager opened the 114-room Italian Romanesque-themed hotel in 1984 as a retreat for Studio 54 (a nearby disco club) regulars and wealthy guests.
(There’s still some debate whether it was the first one ever, a title often attributed to the Blakes Hotel in London or the Bedford in San Francisco.)
The 19-floor Morgans Hotel offered a one-of-a-kind, lavish getaway.
The low-profile hotel was a captivating blend of chic, casual, luxurious, and monochromatic. Rooms and corridors featured high-end Italian granite floors, 40s-era teak chairs, lit candles, and airplane sinks.
The Morgans in New York and the Bedford in San Francisco kickstarted the boutique hotel trend from either coast. These against-the-grain hotels later spread from major cities to less-traveled tourist destinations.
Today, America is home to more than 4,642 boutique hotels.
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Typical Boutique Hotel Features
The full boutique hotel experience goes well beyond its classy exterior and small hotel feel. The appeal of these hotels lies in their intricate features:
In the Rooms
For Rubell and Schrager, the inspiration behind the Morgans Hotel was the desire to revolutionize the hospitality industry by inching toward a more memorable and trendy stay.
The rooms themselves are more than just temporary bedrooms on a three-night business trip. Instead, they deliver an unforgettable, engulfing experience with tiny details for guests to discover. One might find vintage 40s sofas or a bookshelf stocked with old-timey reads from the 17th century.
There’s no telling what you’ll see when you open the door to your suite. That’s because boutique hotel rooms are interior design marvels.
Some rooms are decade-inspired, with the oranges, clean lines, and psychedelic wallpapers of the 70s. Others are a time warp to several centuries ago, fitted with antique memorabilia and luxurious over-the-bed chandeliers.
However, the possibilities are truly endless.
Boutique rooms can feel like authentic Roman villas or Prohibition-era dens. Or even Old West cabins, contemporary beachfront rooms, or chambers in a Medieval castle.
Some rooms are even individually decorated so that no two rooms in the hotel look the same.
In Its Amenities
A hotel’s amenities are often the biggest draw for travelers craving a comfortable stay. At boutique hotels, these offerings range from luxurious to convenient, entertaining to peaceful.
These sometimes unspoken luxuries may include:
- Pet-friendly rooms
- Complementary and gourmet breakfasts
- Completely custom toiletries
- Musical performances on-site
- Chef-prepared restaurant meals
- Authentic wool throw blankets
- Marble or granite floors
- Pillow menus
- Freestanding tubs
- Free bicycle rentals
- Local artwork or locally made furniture
- Complimentary snacks and bottled water
Many boutiques also include basic amenities, such as in-room Wi-Fi, 24/7 coffee machines, and a heated pool.
In the Hotel Itself
The lobby, corridors, and common areas add the finishing touches to your stay, at least on the hotel’s premises.
Small-scale boutique hotels welcome guests with features like:
- Classy lobby bars with a cocktail hour
- Reception areas
- Meeting and conference rooms
- Rooftop gardens, pools, and sitting areas
- Multi-story spas, fitness centers, and cafes
- Art galleries
- Wide-open lounges with fireplaces
- Marble hallways, floors, and staircases
- Personal concierge services
- Interior balconies over the lobby
- Water features and fountains
Every corner of boutique hotels is worth exploring during the downtime between meetings or while waiting out a sunshower. For business travelers particularly, there are dozens of scenic places to break out your laptop or take an important business call.
In the Surrounding Area
It’s no coincidence that boutique hotels sprout up in popular urban areas. That’s because boutique hotels thrive on that deep connection to nearby hotspots, cuisine, and culture. In fact, a large part of the boutique hotel experience is exploring local attractions.
Guests head out on foot to visit monuments, museums, art galleries, town squares, parks, concert halls, or historical places.
For example, a boutique hotel in Amsterdam may have a local guide on-staff who hosts guided tours of Dam Square or the Royal Palace. In Bali, boutiques might host excursions to the nearby temples, forests, or rice terraces.
While boutique hoteliers encourage guests to experience the local charm, they also do the opposite — bring the local area in.
The one common thread between most boutique hotels is pride in the surrounding city. So you’ll find local college sports memorabilia, artwork produced by locals, and snapshots of the area pre-renovation.
Hotels in larger cities like Miami or Los Angeles may also provide accommodations and transportation for more wanderlust guests. For example, tickets to a local theater or festival, reservations at Latin restaurants, or shuttle services to nearby train or rail stations.
Examples of Boutique Hotels
The beauty in boutique hotels is that no two are even remotely the same.
While most common in bustling urban areas, these hotels can be high-end, extensions of big-name hotel brands, bed and breakfasts, independent hotels, and everything in between. The only caveats are that they’re small, sophisticated, modern, and welcoming.
Here’s an in-depth look at some of the best boutique hotels and what makes them so unique:
The Curio Collection by Hilton Hotel
The Curio Collection is the Hilton Hotel chain’s venture into the boutique hotel industry. Each of its 100 four or five-star boutiques boasts its own unique vibe and immerses guests in the local culture.
The Hotel Saski Krakow in Poland, situated in the city’s square, is one of the collection’s newest welcomes. The former 19th-century hotel and concert hall is now an affordable boutique hotel in the heart of Krakow. It offers a bed-and-breakfast feel while being within walking distance of museums.
Despite being within the same collection, the Highland Dallas delivers a diverse and stylish urban stay in the heart of Texas. This modernized boutique hotel is home to a spa, fancy bar, and business-centric conference rooms.
The 75 global Kimpton Hotels are proof that, in the boutique hotel world, location matters.
Its hotel line-up includes hotels along the white sand beaches of Mexico, near the nightlife in Atlanta, and surrounded by the contemporary architecture of Bangkok. Each Kimpton boutique brings its own surprises and styles.
Looking to get more out of your next business trip? Check out: 7 Underused Hotel Services and Amenities (and How to Find Hotels That Offer Them)
Why Business Travelers Love Boutique Hotels
Boutique hotels are popular amongst the younger, trendier crowds.
However, if you have an upcoming business trip, here’s why you might consider booking a suite at a boutique hotel.:
Touch of Luxury
Boutique hotels are all luxurious by nature, even if they lack ritzy chandeliers, marble floors, and upscale penthouses. Classic boutiques typically offer four or five-star lodging with a myriad of amenities available.
During your business trip’s downtime, you can splurge on a 60-minute massage and admire local artwork hung in the corridors. Or dine in the hotel’s sushi restaurant and sunbathe by the saltwater pool mid-afternoon.
A Quiet Retreat
Perhaps the biggest draw to business travelers is that boutique hotels are quiet, cozy oases. With no more than 100 rooms in total, the lobby and hallways are almost always empty and quiet.
Your fellow guests also booked a boutique suite for the same reason. Those that hang back are there to appreciate a peaceful and relaxing vacation, while those who venture out keep the premises virtually guest-free.
Boutiques are the perfect place to lay your head down after a long day of meetings or continue business calls uninterrupted.
A Sense of Place
Those who book boutique hotel rooms consider their lodging to be a crucial piece of their destination. Even in the dead of night or with the curtains shut, one look around the room or lobby will only add to your travel experience.
Every carefully selected piece of decor, paint color, light fixture, and furniture will remind you of exactly where your boss sent you. Make the most of your business travel by experiencing the city, even if you don’t venture too far from the hotel.
From the concierge to the bellhops, the staff is also incredibly friendly, and you may even end your trip on a first-name basis.
Immersion With Local Culture & Cuisine
At the heart of cities and historical hotspots, boutique hotels are an efficient way to explore your destination without spending too much time in the back of a cab or on a train.
Many boutiques boast gourmet coffee shops, restaurants, and gift shops on the boutique property. Others are within walking distance of historical homes, nationally known eateries, the riverside, or market squares.
These are the perfect places to galavant after hours!
Unique Amenities & a One-of-a-Kind, Memorable Getaway
If nothing else, boutique suites are unpredictable and one-of-a-kind (in a good way).
Each hotel has its own local touch, interior design style, and historical significance. So there’s no doubt you’ll remember your next business trip, even if you only venture out of the room once or twice!
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Book Your Boutique Hotel Through Hotel Engine and Save!
A stay at a boutique hotel brings a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But it doesn’t have to consume your entire per-diem travel budget!
With Hotel Engine, you guarantee the best boutique hotel suites at affordable rates. Learn more about how to book a room at more than 700,000 hotels (including boutiques) while saving an average of 60% on lodging.
Boutique hotels took the hotel industry by storm nearly 40 years ago. Today, they’re more popular than ever and guarantee an exciting trip, even if it’s strictly business-related or a single night away from home.
The question is: which boutique hotel speaks to you?
Is it an urban-themed hotel in downtown Manhattan? Or a beachside villa on the shores of Italy? A mid-western cabin in Minnesota?
We guess that depends on where your next business trip takes you!
But no matter which you book, one thing’s for sure:
You’re in for a world of unique experiences, personalized service, and limitless types of hotels.
Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine’s audience and cultivating the company’s brand voice. When she’s not working, Audrey enjoys spending time with her family, and hiking in the nearby Rockies with her dog, Albie.