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 by the industry of boutique hotel properties. “How cool would it be to be the general manager of the cool boutique hotel?” I often found asking myself as I flipped through the pages of his magnificent photos. Working hard to make a career out of the hotel industry, I was convinced that I just had to be involved with a boutique hotel someday.
That someday came true, if in 2004 I had been invited to become the general manager of what was yet still is just one of Palm Springs most hip boutique hotels. I left another huge opportunity in order to take part in this unique world. The art, the design, the vibe. I had never really worked anywhere having a “vibe”. A year later and I knew, I knew what many in the hotel business tend not to…what it is really want to be the gm of any hip, cool boutique hotel. It’s not for everybody and amazing for a lot of.
You will find a mini storm brewing inside the boutique hotel world, one I don’t think most involved in this industry are aware of. With increasingly more boutique hotel operators entering the playground, more and more bad hiring decisions are now being made. The correct General Mangers will work at the wrong hotels. Just like a square peg and a round hole, some things simply do not work. That is to blame and what you can do?
The Boutique Hotel: First allow me to first tell you that I have a very narrow take a look at what really constitutes a boutique hotel. I think that this term “Boutique” when used to describe a hotel is usually misapplied. A PR Newswire is not really based on just a hot design, as much would argue.
A boutique hotel has to be an unbiased operation. The hotel should not be a part of a collection that is greater than say, 10 properties. Beyond this you get into using a corporate hierarchical management style that is required in operating a large company and maintaining brand consistency. Take W Hotels for example. In my opinion these are not boutique hotels. They appear such as a boutique hotel, even think that one. Many boutique hotels would strive to be as great as a W. But a W Hotel is run and managed by way of a rzaufu corporation. The home level management makes only a few decisions in regards to what services are offered and exactly how the home is run. A boutique hotel has to be operated as near the actual physical operation as you can. W’s and so on are fantastic, but in my view don’t fit the meaning of a boutique hotel. Boutique hotels can also be constantly re-inventing themselves, making sure that their fickle guest never lose interest and look to stay at the latest new, hip and cool property.
Travelers chose to remain at a boutique hotel as a result of story, or the experience. The knowledge is very important and must be unique and somewhat innovative. The overall demographics are individuals 20 to 50 years of age, work in more creative fields like advertising or entertainment and appreciate a higher level of service. When Ian Schrager entered the market with what many consider to be the very first boutique hotel, this demographic discovered that they can use their travel budget get them an area in a cool, hip hotel instead of a generic mid-level branded property. And the boom started.
Boutique hotel guests enjoy experiences, unique architecture, leading edge interior design and in some cases an urban location. The market is expanding as well as the demographic model explained earlier is starting to bleed into others. You may perfectly locate a Fortune 500 CEO staying at a boutique hotel. It is actually difficult to disregard the hype.
Luxury hotel operators are scrambling in order to avoid losing market share for the boutique world. Some hotels are actually taking the “brand” off their marketing and streamlining their operations in order that their properties are authentically boutique. Take the Kahala Mandarin Oriental for example. This famous luxury property recently took Mandarin Oriental away to make sure they could operate and compete in the new marketplace of more independent hotels. They are now simply “The Kahala” and therefore are working hard to become authentically local and independent of a major brand identification. I believe others will follow.
In the interest of this publication, I am going to make use of the luxury hotel because the comparison for the boutique since most closely associate a boutique hotel with luxury travel. So what exactly is so different about becoming a general manager in a luxury hotel versus a boutique hotel? Will it actually be that different? The fundamentals are similar. The general manager is responsible for the entire daily operation, hiring decisions, marketing, budgets, forecasting, rate strategy, facility maintenance etc… The true secret for both kinds 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 in a boutique property. It is all high touch.
The main difference is that a boutique hotel general manager wears just a couple more hats compared to luxury general manager. A boutique general manager could be preparing complex budget forecasting spreadsheets at 10am and at 10:30 am be clearing the pool towels from round the hotel’s salt water plunge. When was the final time you saw the general manager from the Peninsula Beverly Hills with an arm filled with towels? Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that the general manager from the Peninsula would do that in a second, when they were required to. The general manager of any boutique hotel HAS to, as there is nobody else. The one server working the restaurant is additionally probably in charge of caring for the pool, taking room service orders, delivering the orders and on and on…. The general manager of any boutique hotel is oftentimes also the HR director and breaks the front desk agents. When the gm is in California then the gm may find themselves breaking almost every position just to avoid getting sued and fined!
Take this example; you are the GM of any hot boutique property inside the desert. The temperature is pushing 118 degrees. Since occupancy throughout the summer season is suprisingly low, you encourage a lot of your team to consider their vacations so you can get that vacation accrual off your books. Someone who goes up on this can be your chief engineer, certainly one of two engineers for your entire five acre property. He goes home to the motherland, Germany for any week. Now because it’s hot does not always mean which you don’t have customers. Some tourists seem to love the temperature, and so it was using this steamy day in August. Because the sun starts to set, your friends and family make their way through the pool for their bungalows. Dusk and 100 degrees, everyone switches on their aged air conditioners full blast to allow them to cool down. Your only other engineer went home for the day. It is at relating to this time that the calls start arriving. The ac units are freezing up. The old units freeze up when they are switched on full blast. Many blow the circuit breakers. So there you are, inside your office doing the forecast for your weekly corporate status report call when 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 you need your engineer back on property, but his pre-paid cell phone (you cant afford to cover a cell phone for him) is out of time -you cant reach him! So where do you turn? You visit the rooms to try to fix them. Room by room you tackle the process of explaining for your sweaty and angry guests why they cant turn their ac on full and this it will take a minimum of 2 hours for that ice developed round the coils to melt. Then you certainly start looking for that circuit breakers, that are scattered all around the 60 years old property. Once you get to the last room the guest who answers the doorway almost screams on the sight in the sweaty, dirty general manager holding an instrument box having a dazed look on his face. “Wasn’t this the same guy who was pouring us Mimosas in the pool this morning honey?” asks the guest while you begin your repairs. When the craziness is over you get a call on your cellular phone. Yes, it is actually your engineer returning your call. “You trying to reach me boss?”. The next day, while on your conference phone you listen to a speech regarding how general managers need to hang out with their guests as opposed to in their offices. Duh, you believe as you make an effort to scrub the grit out from below your fingernails.
The financial realities of the boutique hotel are unique. The appearance of 3 to 5 star service using a two star funds are the standard, and the gm’s get caught in the middle. The boutique hotel just lacks your budget to staff such as a true luxury property and everyone needs to pull their weight. The gm who does not will never be there long and hate every second of their lives.
Together with the additional sweat and frustration for being a boutique hotel gm are definitely the rewards. For the best individual, they are going to realize that the entrepreneurial management style required of these is highly empowering. The gm can make a large amount of decisions by themselves, decisions that in a larger corporate hotel would require an approval or worse….committee discussion! The reality that some towels need to be acquired and maybe a drink or two be mixed and served is in fact fun to them. The rewards of always being in front of your friends and family are what most gm’s want anyway, however, many usually are not really ready for it if they are tasked to help make which happen every single day.