Boutique and lifestyle hotels don't have to be luxurious to be a part of a jet setters fashionable life; they simply need to provide a unique environment in a comfortable setting that appeals to multiple layers of consumers.
Panelists speaking on the "Boutique and Lifestyle Doesn't Have to Mean Luxury" panel during the opening day of the fourth annual Lifestyle/Boutique Hotel Development Conference said trends are pointing to more value-conscious consumers being willing and able to seek out affordable, unique experiences in hotels other than "big beige boxes."
The panelists agreed with moderator Michael Sullivan, managing director of real estate for DLA, that boutique and lifestyle hotels are all about an experience, with some design quirkiness that speaks to guests.
Kimberly Christner, president and CEO of Williamsburg, Virginia-based Cornerstone Hospitality, said the timing is right for boutique hotels to take center stage in smaller towns across the United States because they don't need to be in the ultra-luxury class to provide solid returns to owners. Cornerstone, a development and management company, has a dozen properties in its portfolio, including independent boutique hotels.
"You're going to have secondary and tertiary markets that are going to need these kinds of hotels," Christner said. "‘Boutique' is experience, and it happens a lot today with historic hotels. With new market tax credits available, it's a viable way to revitalize small towns."
Gene Kornota, principal with Chicago-based Neighborhood Development Corporation and Acme Hotel Company, said there's a paradigm shift with younger consumers who prefer a comfortable, unique environment rather than going to an über-cool upscale hotel that's short on providing a welcoming atmosphere.
"It's safe to say it's no longer about stars and diamonds," Kornota said. "We see it as ‘fun,' not ‘fine.'
Kornota said staff at mid-priced lifestyle hotels can have tattoos, facial hair and other forms of individual expression, as long as they are well trained in their job functions. He said the success of Whole Foods in the supermarket sector provides a good lesson to hoteliers in the mid-price boutique hotel business.