What makes a hotel “boutique”?

There are lots of companies that claim to specialise in boutique hotels. For many, a boutique hotel is simply a hotel that’s not part of a national or international chain and that distinguishes itself by its design, location or additional features. Many hotels aspire to be a boutique hotel without actually achieving it, leaving guests disappointed. Overall, there are four main elements to the true boutique hotel:

Size

Large hotels can be cool, trendy and chic, but they can’t be boutique. Just as the word is used to describe small, design-led specialist shops, so it applies to hotels. Hotels that apply the term “boutique” to themselves or have it ascribed to them are usually small – certainly less than 80 rooms and in some cases with only one or two. Their size contributes to the atmosphere and service that characterises a hotel with a difference. Whilst size might count in terms of the number of rooms, it doesn’t follow that those rooms must also be small. In fact, a hotel than could easily accommodate 20 rooms might choose instead to create just ten, but make them spacious and luxurious, catering to the boutique market.

Design

When the first boutique hotel was opened in New York in 1984, by hotel entrepreneurs Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, it was praised for its original design and quirky nature. Designed for those who really wanted to participate in their travel rather than passively take it all in, Morgans, and those that followed it, challenged the way we thought about hotels. Although Schrager would not now describe his hotels as boutique, the name has been applied to those hotels which followed in his footsteps as far as design is concerned. From clean and contemporary, to themed rooms and classic elegance, a boutique hotel usually has a clear design theme and attention to detail at every level.

Service

The hallmark of an excellent boutique hotel is its service and the people behind it. Whether the hotel chooses to assign a personal butler to each guest, or just hires and trains staff to anticipate your every need, the service at a boutique hotel is really what it should be at any hotel: ensuring that your stay goes without a hitch, that you can get transport, opera tickets or excellent meals when you want them and making you feel at home rather than feeling like you’re a nuisance. It is often the passionate owners behind a boutique hotel that make the experience unforgettable.

Location

Boutique hotels are scattered all over the world, from 24-hour cities like New York, London and Rio De Janeiro to island havens in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. What often sets them apart are the buildings that contain them. From former plantation houses in Sri Lanka to old textile mills, towers and palazzos, the type of building often forms the basis of the design and it is the blend of architecture, design and service that turns what could be just another hotel into a boutique one.

Find your ideal boutique hotel in the Chic Retreats collection.

Andrew Panteli
Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.