Boutique Hotel. Only the words get the imagination going. Before I dog eared the pages of Herbert Ypma’s first Hip Hotels book I was captivated by 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 magnificent photos. Working hard to make a career from the hotel industry, I was convinced that I just had to be associated with a boutique hotel someday.
That someday came true, while in 2004 I used to be invited to become the overall manager of what was yet still is one of Palm Springs most hip boutique hotels. I left another huge opportunity just to be part of this unique world. The art, the style, the vibe. I had never really worked anywhere having a “vibe”. Annually later and I knew, I knew what many within the hotel business do not…what it is really like to be the gm of the hip, cool boutique hotel. It’s not for anyone and amazing for many.
You will find a mini storm brewing within the boutique hotel world, one I don’t think most involved in this industry understand. With a lot more boutique hotel operators entering the playground, increasingly more bad hiring decisions are being made. The best General Mangers are working in the wrong hotels. Like a square peg along with a round hole, a few things simply do not work. Who may be to blame and what you can do?
The Boutique Hotel: First allow me to first inform you that I have a very narrow view of what really constitutes a boutique hotel. I think that this term “Boutique” when employed to describe a hotel is usually misapplied. A PR Newswire is not based on just a hot design, as many would argue.
A boutique hotel must be an independent operation. Your accommodation must not be element of a collection which is more than say, 10 properties. Beyond this you receive into possessing a corporate hierarchical management style that is required in running a large company and looking after brand consistency. Take W Hotels as an example. For me they are not boutique hotels. They appear such as a boutique hotel, even feel as if one. Many boutique hotels would make an effort to be as great being a W. But a W Hotel is run and managed by a rzaufu corporation. The house level management makes only a few decisions as to what services are available and just how the house is run. A boutique hotel should be operated as close to the actual physical operation as is possible. W’s and so forth are amazing, but for me don’t fit the meaning of a boutique hotel. Boutique hotels can also be constantly re-inventing themselves, ensuring that their fickle guest never lose interest and search to stay on the latest new, hip and cool property.
Travelers decided to stay in a boutique hotel as a result of story, or perhaps the experience. The experience is essential and should be unique and somewhat innovative. The typical demographics are individuals 20 to 50 years of age, function in more creative fields like advertising or entertainment and appreciate an increased amount of service. When Ian Schrager entered the market with what many consider to be the first boutique hotel, this demographic learned that they might use their travel budget have them an area with a cool, hip hotel rather than a generic mid-level branded property. And the boom started.
Boutique hotel guests enjoy experiences, unique architecture, cutting edge home design and in some cases an urban location. The market is expanding and also the demographic model explained earlier is starting out bleed into others. You might very well look for a Fortune 500 CEO staying in a boutique hotel. It is actually difficult to ignore the hype.
Luxury hotel operators are scrambling to prevent losing market share to the boutique world. Some hotels are actually utilizing the “brand” off their marketing and streamlining their operations so that their properties are authentically boutique. Go ahead and take Kahala Mandarin Oriental as an example. This famous luxury property recently took Mandarin Oriental away so they could operate and compete in the new marketplace more independent hotels. They are simply “The Kahala” and are working hard to be authentically local and independent of a major brand identification. I think others will follow.
In the interest of this publication, I will utilize the luxury hotel because the comparison towards the boutique because most closely associate a boutique hotel with luxury travel. So what is so different about becoming a general manager in a luxury hotel versus a boutique hotel? Could it really be that different? The fundamentals are the same. The overall manager is responsible for the whole everyday operation, hiring decisions, marketing, budgets, forecasting, rate strategy, facility maintenance etc… The real key for varieties of properties is guest service and guest interaction. The guest in a high end luxury hotel expects so that you can communicate with your accommodation general manager, as do the guests with a boutique property. It really is all high touch.
The difference is the fact a boutique hotel general manager wears just a couple more hats compared to the luxury general manager. A boutique general manager might be preparing complex budget forecasting spreadsheets at 10am and also at 10:30 am be clearing the pool towels from around the hotel’s salt water plunge. When was the final time you saw the typical manager of the Peninsula Beverly Hills with an arm full of towels? Don’t misunderstand me, I understand the general manager of the Peninsula would do that in a second, when they needed to. The typical manager of the boutique hotel HAS to, since there is nobody else. The one server working the restaurant can also be probably in charge of caring for the pool, taking room service orders, delivering the orders and on and on…. The typical manager of a boutique hotel may also be even the HR director and breaks the top desk agents. If the gm is at California then the gm might find themselves breaking pretty much every position just to avoid getting sued and fined!
Take this example; you happen to be GM of the hot boutique property in the desert. The temperature is pushing 118 degrees. Since occupancy throughout the the summer time is suprisingly low, you encourage lots of your team to adopt their vacations so you can get that vacation accrual off your books. One of those who goes high on this is your chief engineer, one of two engineers to your entire five acre property. He goes the place to find the motherland, Germany for any week. Now because it’s hot does not mean that you simply don’t have customers. Some tourists appear to love the temperature, so it was with this particular steamy day in August. As the sun actually starts to set, your friends and family make their way from your pool to their bungalows. Dusk and 100 degrees, everyone turns on their aged air conditioning units full blast to enable them to cool down. Your only other engineer went home for the day. It is actually at concerning this time that this calls start to arrive. The ac units are freezing up. The previous units freeze up while they are switched on full blast. Many blow the circuit breakers. So there you happen to be, inside your office doing the forecast to 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 check out the calls and find out you need your engineer back on property, but his pre-paid cell phone (you cant afford to fund a cellular phone for him) has run out of time -you cant reach him! So where do you turn? You head to the rooms to try to fix them. Room by room you tackle the process of explaining in your sweaty and angry guests why they cant turn their ac on full and that it will take a minimum of a couple of hours for the ice built up around the coils to melt. Then you begin looking for that circuit breakers, which are scattered all around the 60 year-old property. Once you reach the last room the guest who answers the doorway almost screams in the sight in the sweaty, dirty general manager holding something box having a dazed look on his face. “Wasn’t this exactly the same guy who was pouring us Mimosas on the pool this morning honey?” asks the guest as you begin your repairs. When the craziness is over you receive a ask your cell phone. Yes, it is your engineer returning your call. “You attempting to reach me boss?”. The next day, during your conference phone you pay attention to a speech regarding how general managers have to hang out with their guests instead of within their offices. Duh, you imagine when you make an effort to scrub the grit from under your fingernails.
The financial realities of the boutique hotel are unique. The look of three to five star service with a two star funds are the standard, as well as the gm’s get caught in the middle. The boutique hotel just lacks the cost to staff such as a true luxury property and everyone has to pull their weight. The gm who does not will never be there long and hate every second of the lives.
Together with the additional sweat and frustration of being a boutique hotel gm are definitely the rewards. For the right individual, they will likely discover that the entrepreneurial management style required of those is highly empowering. The gm can make a large amount of decisions on their own, decisions that in a larger corporate hotel would require an approval or worse….committee discussion! The fact that some towels need to be picked up and perhaps a drink or two be mixed and served is actually fun for them. The rewards of always being facing your friends and family are what most gm’s want anyway, but many usually are not really ready because of it when they are tasked to make which happen every day.