The Importance Of Collaborations And Partnerships For Boutique Hotels

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By Nick Hartwright

Founder, Green Rooms Wood Green

 

In May 2016 I launched Green Rooms, the UK’s first independent arts-led social enterprise hotel. While the hotel is open to everyone, it is aimed primarily at people who work in the creative industries. Creatives are a discerning bunch but most of them don’t have hundreds of pounds to spend on hotel rooms when they come to London. So their funds are limited, but by the same token the last places they want to stay are soulless, formulaic, budget chain hotels. Green Rooms is a godsend for them. It is an affordable, well-designed space with a pared-back, utilitarian feel, and somewhere for artists to sleep, eat, work and spend down time with congenial people. It’s a creative haven, a melting pot of ideas – a place where lateral thinking and new approaches are actively encouraged. And a place where sharing is key.

From auspicious beginnings the hotel has developed and evolved over the past 10 months, and partnerships have been intrinsic to its success. They permeate all aspects of Green Rooms and run right through it. They've enriched the whole proposition, added piquancy and delivered constant ‘newness’. New partnerships give customers reason to return – they've impacted the bottom line and I’d argue they can do the same for any boutique hotel.

However, I believe that for partnerships and collaborations to pay dividends they have to be truly authentic, and symbiotic. You can’t fake them and you can’t hoodwink people or pull the wool over their eyes. My business card says ‘Green Rooms founder’ but it’s not a title I buy into really, I’m more the chief facilitator or enabler.

For starters, Green Rooms funding structure is rooted in partnerships and the hotel simply wouldn't exist without the financial support we received at the outset from Haringey Council, the Greater London Authority and a number of impact investors. The beautiful 1930s Art Deco building which houses the hotel was earmarked for demolition and would very likely have been turned into a block of luxury flats – not something the area needed. I had an alternative vision for the building, a vision where everyone would benefit. And when we sat around the table together it wasn’t hard to convince people to invest, they could see right away that Green Rooms was an altruistic project. A project that would benefit the local community and the wider creative economy in London. What’s pleasing is that Green Rooms is being held up as a glowing example of how local authorities, social enterprises and private investors can work together to deliver game-changing cultural entrepreneurships. Not to mention the fact that all of our stakeholders use the hotel, whether that be to stay a night or two from time to time, or to put on events in the communal spaces.

And then we have our institutional partners. I believe you have to speculate to accumulate, and while Green Rooms ‘rack rates’ are more than competitive, to help secure block bookings from arts organisations we offer discounted prices to the likes of Somerset House and The British Council. All we ask in return is that the artists our partners’ put up at the hotel share their work – so if a group is working on a show we’ll have them put on a truncated version for guests to enjoy. It’s all about content. If you’re a ‘normal’ customer at Green Rooms there’s a fair chance you’ll see some sort of artistic endeavor when you’re with us, whether that be a piece of immersive theatre, an exhibition or a musical performance.

Of course, we programme our own events too. Some are esoteric, others more mainstream, but I like to think there’s something for everyone. Just recently we started a series of ‘city showcases’. Every month we celebrate a different culturally progressive city. We put artists from said city up in the hotel, let them exhibit their work and have renowned DJs play at the launch night. Bristol was the first and it was a roaring success. In the coming months we’ll be focusing on other UK cities and international arts hubs as well.

Our restaurant programme is all about partnerships too. Green Rooms isn’t your average hotel – so it follows we didn’t put an average, run-of-mill-club club sandwich restaurant in the lobby. The restaurant space runs as an incubator project, which means every six months we bring in a hot up-and-coming restaurateur, give them the kitchen and dining space free of charge, and provide them with expert tutelage at the same time. Said tutelage comes courtesy of Johnny Smith – co-founder of the Michelin-starred Clove Club restaurant in Shoreditch. Whilst at Green Rooms restaurateurs gain experience in running their own joint, and they get financial advice and help finding permanent premises after they leave. Our guests get delicious food and the chance to try something new every six months. It’s a supportive, creative and holistic programme where everyone wins. We’re currently on our second residency, Pop’s Kitchen, a modern take on Caribbean food, and it’s going great guns. The constant newness keeps people coming back.

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Above all else, what really sets Green Rooms apart is the collaborative ethos we’ve fostered. A few years back I set up a pop-up hotel for a number of theatrical companies visiting the UK and it was a resounding success. It was what convinced me that Green Rooms could work. What struck me were the interactions the groups had; it’s one thing working together but another thing to stay with like-minded people too. Conversations spark ideas, which in turn can become projects, and in some instances these projects evolve into fully-fledged creative businesses.

Green Rooms brings people together from a wide range of creative disciplines and some brilliant ventures have already been conceived at the hotel. Mostly at the bar over or a cocktail or three. But make no mistake about it, the partnerships and collaborations we’ve set up have made it the success story it is. I just preside over it all and steer things in the right direction as best I can.

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Nick Hartwright

Boutique So Hot Right Now

Big chains are bringing boutique style to the masses. How will lifestyle leaders compete?

(Written for BLLA Magazine)

By: Dulani Porter, EVP & Partner at SPARK | http://spark.us

For the last half-century, people have thought about travel in a pretty standard, boring, place-to-lay-your-head kind of way. In fact, pretty much everything they valued was standardized. People all across the globe wanted to believe the brands they were buying were consistent, accurate, and uniform. They wanted to know the precise specs of what they were getting. They were making sure that, no matter what, they could keep up with the Joneses.

Enter the last decade or so, where people no longer have any interest in keeping up with the Joneses. Instead, they compete to be them. Everyone wants experiences to be unique. Cutting edge. Completely authentic, personalized, and (borderline) uncapturable.

In the hotel and tourism space, this authenticity is captured perfectly by the boutique hotel. These hotels spent years taking risks, running trials and learning from their errors, and spearheading this evolution of travel to discover what works. And now, the bigger hotel chains have taken notice.

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Chain brands are revamping their experiences to mimic more of what’s working in the boutique hotel space. When it comes to interior design approaches, layout of common spaces and even local partnerships for their outlets, it all seems to come straight from the playbook that boutique lifestyle hotels have spent years writing. And they’re starting to do it on a massive scale.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But in a world of behemoth copycats, how can boutique lifestyle hotels differentiate their product and evolve for success? By doing what big chains aren’t able to do: you must give ownership of the guest experience over to your team.

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“Give ownership of the guest experience over to your team.”

Part of a great boutique experience is the ability to customize and cater to every guest individually. Chains must operate according to strict brand standards and unwavering guidelines to maintain their business model. Sure, they can try to give the illusion of a custom experience. But an independent boutique property that creates a well thought out guest experience—and provides their staff with the tools and autonomy to apply the brand’s story to make each guest’s experience as perfect as possible—are the ones who will create unforgettable experiences that are remembered, shared, and recommended to others. The big chains simply can't afford to take the time to bring a brand story to life in a distinctive way.

Take, for example, The Epicurean Hotel in Tampa. When creating their story, we decided on becoming a destination for those wanting to have an experience founded in incredible food and wine. The partnership with the iconic Bern’s Steakhouse (and integration of their wine collection—one of the largest and most respected in the world) was an incredible foundation for this story. Since opening, they've seen success leading to being named Marriott’s Opening of the Year thanks to the thoughtful approach to their values, and how those values become tangible on the property.

For The Epicurean Hotel, it’s not simply about providing great food and wine. It’s about making it an active part of the experience from check-in to check-out. On arrival, a guest is greeted with a glass of wine from the incredible cellar. As they are walked to their room, their check-in process is conducted by a staff member who is knowledgeable in the area and focuses wholly on the guest and type of experience they want for their stay. The discussion is complete with recommendations on menu items, cultural hot spots, and local activities completely catered to the individual guest. The employees live and work in Tampa, so they know the area. And they live and breathe The Epicurean Hotel, so they believe in the brand story: Awaken Appetites Unknown.

But the story is seen in more than just the employees. As guests explore the property, they have the opportunity walk past the living wall where chefs clip greens for dishes, and meander into the massive restaurant kitchen to see preparations for the next meal and speak with the culinary staff about what they’re cooking up. As they pass by the cooking theater, they can observe a class using the latest pasta-making techniques, before stepping outside to grab a complimentary beach cruiser and explore the neighborhood. Each experience is intentional, and every staff member understands the importance of each interaction.

The big chains can mimic this experience—employing locals who know the area, adding signage, and creating all of the visual aesthetic of being boutique: well-designed, a local coffee roaster in the lobby, local craft beers on tap. But when a guest goes to the lobby to ask a server for recommendations on somewhere to go shopping for an event later that night, they get a recommendation for a nearby mall, a blank stare, or are directed to the concierge, because “it's not my job” is the mindset of an employee who hasn’t been encouraged in a unique brand mindset.

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That same experience at Epicurean would begin with a staff member asking a guest to share their personal style preferences, perhaps sharing some of their favorite places to shop locally and a list of customized recommendations based on that one-on-one interaction with the guest. It may also include a list of places to grab a drink or bite in between their shopping experience. This experience could happen with a server, check-in staff, or the head of housekeeping, because they have all been immersed in the importance of the brand story and connection to the location. And above all, they have been empowered to guide their personal interactions with guests based on that brand story.

This critical difference is what will makes boutique lifestyle hotels successful for the long term. Boutique properties will empower every member of the team, regardless of title, to invest time in making sure the guest gets what they need. Unlike the big chains, they don’t prioritize process over a guest’s perfect stay.

As we look into the future, further imitation is inevitable. But boutique properties and other lifestyle disciplines can continue to own their position as innovators in their space. The strength of boutique is in the ability to create distinctive, ownable moments. Our size is our biggest advantage. As independent teams we are only responsible for the stories we create and the guests who seek them. We don’t have to worry about how to duplicate our ideas on a large scale in Honolulu and Omaha. So when thinking about how we evolve to stay ahead, we must continue to take risks, try new things specific to our brand stories, and—above all—think small.

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The future of money

Pelwasha Faquiryan
SVP, Strategic Markets
Elavon, Inc.

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What’s your story?

Prior to joining Elavon I spent several years at Ingenico where I had the opportunity to interface with the Elavon team, who was one of the strategic partners that I managed. I was immediately impressed by Elavon’s culture and the people, from the CEO down to the field sales representatives. I found these individuals to be driven, motivated and on a path to win. So it was a natural progression and a perfect fit for me to elevate my career in payments with Elavon. I’ve now been here three years and I’m still having loads of fun. I truly believe in the value we bring to customers and am passionate about driving their success.

Alternative Payments are trending like crazy. What’s going on with this?

Alternative payments are all the buzz right now as new entrants to market and traditional providers alike try to monetize a frictionless experience across the payments ecosystem.

Our Elavon innovation team is fully plugged in to the many ways consumers are shopping, buying and choosing to pay. We provide merchants and customers with payment acceptance tools that are both convenient and secure.

Technology has made a huge jump with Card and Cash not being the default payment method for shoppers. People are moving to more convenient methods such as their mobile wallets, which means they no longer need to get their physical wallet out and fumble for the right card. Instead they just require their mobile, making payments easy and the shopper journey simple.

A key question to ask is “Where are your customers visiting from?” If they are local or traveling from abroad to stay in your hotel, do you offer their local currency? If a shopper can see how much something will cost them in their local currency, they will be more comfortable making the payment. We may be familiar with card based transactions, but there are hundreds of payment methods around the world, and we are always looking to expand our offerings to best suit our customers.

As a global organization, Elavon is well placed to see the changing face of payments. In Europe we are now offering more than 50 local payment methods for our merchants to provide their shoppers in an ecommerce environment, which we are looking to replicate on our North American platform, as we already support local Canadian payment methods and card wallets today.

As other new alternative payment trends emerge, we always pay close attention to the benefits and risks associated with those trends. We are diligent to introduce only those payment methods that we know are secure and appropriate for our clients, and the broader industry.

Cyber Security is always on everyone’s mind. How do you and your team stay alert?

We are managing an inherently dynamic security environment, so we invest in strengthening and maturing our cyber-resilience. Our strategy is intelligence-driven, risk-based, customer-centric, and continually adaptive. This means that we anticipate emerging threats and risks, enable business growth while protecting existing revenue, and safeguard our information and customers and provide solid security solutions.

Cybersecurity is a community effort. Just like the bad guys, we collaborate with the global security community to bolster our intelligence and have unparalleled partnerships with groups such as the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), Payments Processor Information Sharing Council (PPISC), Financial Services Roundtable (BITS), Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council (FSSCC), and the PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC).

Elavon is also globally regulated, so have external regulators and examiners that monitor our cybersecurity on a monthly basis. We have adopted global security standards and get annual external attestations for the Payment Card Industry (PCI) and externally certified for ISO 27001. To stay on our toes, our parent company conducts regular, unannounced penetration tests on Elavon.

What’s new with Elavon this year? Any new launches?

We are thrilled to announce that we are launching a new product this spring focused on third-party payments for hotels. Our new solution called Converge Hospitality fills a big gap in the industry by allowing third party invoicing and payments through a cloud-based solution. Historically, hotels have had to issue a paper form to patrons who want to pay for an amenity on behalf of a hotel guest, such as a bottle of champagne. That form contains the customer’s card number and sometimes a photocopy of the payment card or driver’s license, which can be a security hazard if that information got in the wrong hands. Now, hotel staff can instantly issue a digital invoice via email to a third party customer or Meeting Planner. The third party customer can securely pay for an Amenity or Room-Related Charge online directly through the linked invoice – using their credit/debit cards or ACH. Hotels will no longer need to fax, email or take credit card numbers over the phone.

What’s currently your favorite to read?

The Beaumont Series

What TV show is your Netflix obsession?

Ozark

What’s your favorite hotel amenity?

Slippers

What’s your go-to outfit to travel in?

Yoga pants, sweatshirt and my converse

What’s your favorite restaurant in Atlanta?

Umi’s for sushi, Amalfi’s for Italian

Do you prefer business travel in New York City or LA?

New York

6 Secrets to Managing Supply Chain Costs While Still Providing a Memorable Boutique Experience

By Angela Eberhart, Vice President, Avendra LLC

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In the boutique and lifestyle industry, balancing priorities such as guest satisfaction with costs is constantly top-of-mind. Whether you’re responsible for the overall purchasing strategy of a luxury hotel or the day-to-day buying decisions of an intimate boutique property, you can continuously challenge yourself to do more to protect your bottom line while still providing a unique boutique experience and quality products your guests will love.

Here are six secrets to managing costs in your supply chain. These methods are effective and straightforward. The key is checking in on each of them, staying current on market prices and following up with your teams to ensure implementation and coordination.

1. Stay Up-to-Date on Pricing Changes and Market Dynamics

To understand the factors influencing pricing, it’s important to follow trends in the global economy. Tracking price fluctuations is one way to start lowering your costs. Understanding supply and demand, as well as seasonality, is another; it’s essential for every product in your pipeline. It’s also worth tracking some specific ingredients even more closely.

For example, the price of meat can vary widely depending on the type of protein and the specific month. So, while you may serve filet mignon year-round, knowing when those higher costs kick in should prompt you to place a large order, adjust your menu pricing or vary the portion size to maintain profitability.

2.  Consider Alternate Brands and Suppliers

While a strong relationship with your suppliers is critical, never be shy about making changes to the products you currently use—rotating in new items can quickly and dramatically reduce your costs. Of course, you may have relationships with some suppliers that you don’t want to disrupt. You may also have products that you know your guests love—items too valuable to your operation to consider changing. Identifying other opportunities; alternate suppliers may offer more benefits, better products and lower costs.

3. Carefully Plan the Timing of Your Orders

The timing of orders can make an enormous difference in your bottom line. Allowing plenty of lead time for your order can help ensure availability, along with reducing the stress of not having a product available. Talk to your suppliers—they may offer discounts during specific times of the year, due to seasonality or lower demand. Capitalize on that, even if it’s far in advance. If you expect prices to jump on essential products, order them now.

Similarly, try to avoid letting the fiscal month/year drive when you order. The end of the fiscal year often brings an increase in spending to “use up” the budget, then spending again when money becomes available. Instead, be proactive in your planning. Suppliers are more likely to work with you to achieve cost savings if you are proactive. Remember: unexpected hurdles can impact your order— so the earlier you begin the process, the easier it is to jump those hurdles.

4. Consider Total Cost of Ownership

The cost of a product is just one consideration in your purchasing plan, but it’s an important one. Cutting corners up-front may cost you more in the long run; the upfront price is not the only number you should consider. In procurement, total cost of ownership (TCO) is a vital consideration. TCO is the purchase price of a good or an asset plus the total cost of operation over the lifetime of that purchase. When choosing between items, purchasing should consider the long-term costs as well as the original price.

The key to TCO is in understanding how all the pieces work together. Consider all factors related to the item you are looking to purchase to make an educated and informed decision for your property. In the end, the purchase with the lower TCO will make for a better value over time. Some key considerations include: preparation time, brand, durability, warranty, customer expectations and waste.

 
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5. Calculate Rent vs. Own and Outsource vs. In-house

Knowing if you should rent a piece of equipment or outsource a service can be difficult. Consider both options and undertake a detailed analysis of procurement, maintenance, repair, and replacement costs. Renting can save you the up-front capital outlay and reduce operational costs, but owning offers a lower long-term cost and constant availability. Outsourcing offers more flexible scheduling, while in-house labor gives you more control over your labor force. Consider the decision between ordering pre-cut steak vs. cutting in-house. If your staff is skilled and your chef can use trimmings in stews and soups, then you should consider cutting protein products in-house. But if there’s no use for the trimmings, then pre-cut steaks may be the more cost-efficient option.

6. Implement Receiving Guidelines and Follow Them

Confirming the accuracy of your orders is critical to lowering your costs. Check all receivables to ensure you’re getting exactly what you asked for. Check the weight, temperature, count, shelf life, and condition of goods. If you see any visible signs of damage to a box or crate, open it and inspect. If there’s any damage—or any spoilage—you must refuse the delivery.


With these six tips, you’ll be well positioned to start better managing your supply chain costs. However, successful supply chain management takes staying on top of trends in the global marketplace, contracting expertise as well as day-to-day tracking of orders, suppliers and activities.

Owners and operators driven by a desire to reduce costs and at the same time maintain or elevate their quality of service and brand reputation and ultimately the guest experience, often look to a procurement service provider as a strategic partner. Procurement service providers help augment your purchasing department while also bringing years of hospitality expertise, leveraged purchasing power and innovative supplier relationships to the table. Working with an outsourced procurement service provider, such as Avendra, you can develop a customized procurement solution to help ensure your strategic business priorities are achieved while also optimizing your supply chain.

Living the Hotel Lifestyle Everyday...

Living the Hotel Lifestyle Everyday:  The Case for Lifestyle Hotel Residences
by Todd Wynne-Parry, Executive Vice President, Global Acquisitions and Development
Two Roads Hospitality

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As the interest in lifestyle hotels continues to grow among travelers and developers, the challenge lies in making such projects feasible.  In markets unable to achieve average room rates in excess of $350 per night or with extremely high land or construction costs, a stand-alone, full-service lifestyle hotel will typically struggle to stack up economically.  So how are developers feeding the demand for such product?  Enter Lifestyle Hotel Residences.  By blending a condominium or apartment component with a lifestyle hotel development, the returns on the overall project start to create a compelling economic return. 

At Two Roads Hospitality, we have been working with a number of savvy developers around the country to build and operate such developments, but the benefits are not just for the developer.  Whether a condo purchaser or an apartment tenant, the residential market has shown a clear desire to live in a building that is both physically and operationally entwined with that of a bona fide lifestyle hotel.  The benefits for residents include use of the hotel concierge and other services, as well as access to the best bars and restaurants in their city–literally at their doorstep.  This trend has generated record-breaking sales and leasing paces, as well as above market selling prices and rental rates. 

In New York City’s Financial District in particular, residential components are profitable and help create a compelling value proposition in a market where real estate is at a premium.  Buyers are not only investing in luxury accommodations, but they are also receiving an unrivaled level of service and attention not found in other stand-alone residential buildings throughout Manhattan.

 As one of our more recent developments, The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel in downtown Manhattan, provides residents with first-class amenities, including concierge services, housekeeping, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and priority reservations for the hotel’s acclaimed signature restaurants.  With food & beverage being a main focus at all Thompson properties, owners at The Beekman Residences also have the unique opportunity to have in-residence dining provided by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Temple Court restaurant, located on the hotel’s ground-floor.  Of the 67 total condos available, there are only 11 units remaining. And, another testimony to the strength of this value proposition, The Penthouse of The Beekman Residences recently sold for nearly $12 million, setting a new record for residential sales in the Financial District of Manhattan.

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According to an article by Mansion Global, a real estate analyst news site, hotel residences on average provide around a 10% to 20% premium in most markets – ranging from as low as 4% in Bangkok to as high as 40% along Miami’s beachfront.  For example, the Four Seasons Hotel & Residences at the Surf Club, just north of Miami Beach, and the Four Seasons Private Residences Fort Lauderdale are commanding a price premium of 30% to 40% for hotel-affiliated residences over other condominium product in the area.  In the case of the Montage Residences, you can find double and even triple digit appreciation depending on the destination.  This model is attractive to developers because they not only command a price premium for the use of associated hotel amenities, services and branding, but they can also market to a hotel’s proprietary database of customers, helping to expedite sales to customers who already align with their brand.

 
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Some of our recent successes in this growing development trend also include Thompson Seattle and the soon-to-be-constructed The Arts Residences at Thompson San Antonio.  These properties exude the timeless yet modern sophistication that urbanites are looking for, while offering an approachable lifestyle experience and a connection to a vibrant community of like-minded locals, travelers, and residents. 

 On the West Coast, the Thompson Seattle opened in June 2016, with the property’s adjacent, 93-unit Sequel Apartments debuting a month prior in May 2016.  By encouraging prospective residents with the benefits of Thompson Seattle’s hotel amenities, Sequel achieved 91% occupancy and had leased 97% of units within the first six months.  This exceeded performance for comparable market properties that had long stabilized, which landed at a weighted average of only 93% leased units.

Focused on resident retention, the team at Thompson Seattle works with Sequel on promoting all of the guest and resident services offered, also providing VIP access to the Thompson’s restaurant, Scout, and rooftop bar, The Nest, which was named the “Best Rooftop Bar in Seattle” by The Seattle Times

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Located at the epicenter of San Antonio’s vibrant performing arts district and on the famed River Walk, the Thompson San Antonio and Arts Residences is a $116 million, 20-level, 337,000+-square-foot mixed-use development.  Slated for completion in late 2019, the project will include The Arts Residences’ luxury condominiums atop the Thompson hotel.  Since the Arts Residences sales gallery opened in May 2017, 40% of its inventory of 66 units has sold, setting a new record for the fastest-selling high-rise luxury condominium project in Texas.  The for-sale residences are priced from the high $400s to over $4.5 million for its penthouse accommodations. 

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"We attribute the speed with which The Arts Residences' condominium homes are selling to several factors," explains Roberto Contreras, CEO and president of DC Partners, the developer of Thompson San Antonio. "The location is superb, and being on top of the luxury boutique Thompson San Antonio hotel will give owners access to an astounding array of luxe amenities, including 24-hour concierge, valet and room services; a spa; a pool deck with cabanas and bar; on-site parking; and in-house hotel accommodations for guests. The manageable size of the project is important, as well. With only 162 hotel rooms and 58 condominium homes, we will be able to provide prompt, highly personalized service for every owner."

The Arts Residences'

"We attribute the speed with which The Arts Residences' condominium homes are selling to several factors," explains Roberto Contreras, CEO and president of DC Partners, the developer of Thompson San Antonio. "The location is superb, and being on top of the luxury boutique Thompson San Antonio hotel will give owners access to an astounding array of luxe amenities, including 24-hour concierge, valet and room services; a spa; a pool deck with cabanas and bar; on-site parking; and in-house hotel accommodations for guests. The manageable size of the project is important, as well. With only 162 hotel rooms and 58 condominium homes, we will be able to provide prompt, highly personalized service for every owner."

BOUTIQUE DESIGN EXPERT & THE BLOGGERS THAT KNOW TRAVEL BEST

Andrew Fay, president of global hospitality design and development firm The Gettys Group, connected with some of the top travel influencers from across the country to talk all things boutique design.

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With thousands of eyes on their websites and social media accounts every day, travel bloggers and influencers have become reliable sources for hotel reviews and recommendations for many of today’s travelers. As they experience a number of boutique hospitality environments each year, they develop strong preferences, take note of small details and keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s new and next in hotel design.

I talked with three of these well-traveled content creators to better understand why they enjoy visiting boutique properties and where they think hospitality is headed in the coming years. Huyen Tran, a lifestyle, fashion and travel blogger based in Toledo; Anna Kloots, the travel writer and content creator behind Travel Outside the Box; and Tanya Litkovska, a Ukranian-Polish fashion and travel blogger who runs HIDEMYCOAT, all provided interesting viewpoints that reflect the desires and expectations of a sophisticated traveler.

Huyen Tran

Anna Kloots

Tanya Litkovska

Tell us a bit about your travel planning process. How do you decide what destinations to visit? How do you decide where to stay while you're there?

Anna Kloots: I select destinations primarily from personal recommendations of other travelers I trust, articles I read and photos I see of places. These days, after having visited so many popular destinations, I like to look for more off-the-grid options. I want to go places no one else is going or be the first to go somewhere before the crowds set in. Sometimes, I take a peek at the area around popular destinations and see what countries are nearby, but that I don’t often hear much about. That's how I recently decided to travel to Albania. Deciding where to stay is always a research process for me.

Tanya Litkovska: Depending on the length of each particular trip, which usually can range anywhere from one day to two months, I research and schedule each destination. To be honest, sometimes scheduling the trip takes more time and effort than the trip itself! I try to find picturesque locations with their own unique personalities. It can be an urban environment or a natural hidden gem, but it has to have something remarkable to see – something that we and our readers will enjoy looking at and knowing about.

 What are some of the major factors you note when visiting a boutique hotel?

Huyen Tran: I enjoy hotels that have a minimal design with a spacious room and bathroom. It makes everything feel more pleasant.

AK: When visiting a boutique hotel, I'm all about the design. I love unique and interesting design, and I notice that boutique hotels can execute it with a freedom that most large brands don’t always have. I love a hotel where every room is different. I also appreciate something special in the check-in process, like being offered a welcome drink or given a customized map of the area. In the room, I like any little personalized touches. At Sir Hotels, a post-it on the guestroom mirror says, "You look fabulous," and seeing that made me smile ear-to-ear!

TL: I enjoy boutique hotels that share exactly the same values as I do when it comes to hospitality – uniqueness and a one-of-a-kind approach. I love reading about a property’s rich historical roots, how it evolved over time, and of course its interior design.

 Tell us about how design has impacted your past hotel experiences.

AK: Design can completely impact where I choose to stay, particularly if I feel it's important to the experience of the place to be surrounded by a certain type of design. Recently, when I visited Palm Springs, I really wanted a mid-century modern experience! If you're in Palm Springs and don't get that, it takes away from the overall vibe. In rural Africa, on the other hand, if you’re not staying at a property that feels at one with nature, it would take away from the experience of being out in the wild. 

TL: If the design is just right, the experience – down to the tiniest details – will stay with you. I visited a hotel in Washington, DC a while ago and was amazed with the luxurious feeling that was created through the design. The gorgeous lobby, complete with a stunningly executed afternoon tea, just made me feel like royalty.

You recently visited Hotel LeVeque in Columbus, Ohio, which is one of The Gettys Group’s recent interior design and branding projects. What elements stood out most to you?

AK: Hotel LeVeque honestly blew me away! I've stayed in hotels more nights than my own bed over the last three years, and the design and personal touches there definitely stood out. The celestial theme is a perfect match for the Art Deco history of the building, and it was carried out through the design so elegantly. The installation on the lobby wall that depicts the sky on the day the cornerstone was laid is breathtaking, down to the inlaid crystals that give the constellations an extra sparkle. Every chandelier, chair and detail felt reflective of the period, and the whole hotel was just so glamorous; it really felt like you had transported back to 1924. The turn down service was such a special surprise: It actually made me gasp when I entered the room at night. All the lights were off, and the night sky was projected on my ceiling, complete with shooting stars! I slept like that all night, dreaming under the stars about staying there forever.

TL: Hotel LeVeque was a very memorable and vibrant property we definitely enjoyed visiting. I think the feature with the biggest “wow factor” was the iconic, 1200-pound chandelier in the lobby; it’s a piece of art all on its own. The glamorous guestrooms and suites boast a superior level of contemporary design, but still maintain that unique historic charm. The marble-filled bathrooms, just as large and luxurious as a five-star hotel in Paris, are hard to forget!

HOTEL LEVEQUE

What are some hotel design elements you're ready to see retired?

HT: I’m seeing more hardwoods and other flooring materials throughout the guestrooms, and it’s exciting – I am definitely ready for hotels to get rid of the carpeting in their rooms.

AK: I'm ready to see Edison bulbs and “industrial chic” retired. I think a lot of properties rely on those design elements as default “cool”, but it's a trend that has made many hotels look quite similar to one another. If there’s no reason behind why that's the design that was chosen, it just shouldn’t be the default. I like things a little more outside the box.

 What are some emerging hotel design trends you've noticed in your travels?

AK: I've noticed that hotels are unafraid to be a little less structured. I've seen a lot of fun elements – like hammocks inside the guestrooms, mismatched pillows, and flexible and comfortable public spaces – made for people to relax and enjoy themselves.

 Why do you believe boutique hotels have become such a popular choice amongst today's travelers?

HT: I believe boutique hotels provide a more personalized experience, similar to eating at a local restaurant over a franchise spot. I think many people also want to support smaller hotels because they provide an experience and connection with the community that a large brand might not.

AK: I think boutique hotels are rising in popularity because they provide a much more intimate experience. You can get to know the hotel ownership and management, because they are often walking around the property. There are little elements in a boutique hotel that a larger hotel chain could just never execute, because it would be too costly or time-consuming. I also find boutique properties capture the local flavor best, whereas large hotel brands tend to be a bit more generic in design. I also love supporting the “little guy”, and I think a lot of travelers share that mindset.

Huyen, Anna and Tanya have been all over the world, but as they continue to spend time in even the most far-reaching places, they’ve found one common thread in their travels: Boutique is best. Small, thoughtful details and major “wow” moments in these properties have given the travelers – and their thousands of social media followers – reason to stay boutique.

BLACKSTONE HOTEL

Why We Need to Stick Together

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Anyone who has tried to prepare a large conference room for a formal dinner while short on time will be aware of the benefits of teamwork. Frantically wrestling with a tablecloth singlehandedly is unlikely to be anyone’s idea of a good time. Moreover, collaboration is key to success in any industry. We’re social animals, after all, and we frequently work best as part of a team. 

But as the boutique hotel sector is one that thrives on independence and individuality, it can be tempting to feel that we have to plough our own furrow. We cherish the fact that we are not beholden to anyone financially or otherwise, as this gives us the freedom to create beautifully distinctive hotels that visitors will fall in love with – and that they will want to visit over and over again. But this doesn’t mean that we have to sever all ties with other hotels and fend for ourselves, lonely and alone until the end of time. 

At the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association, we believe that in this field where independence is our unique selling point, sticking together is crucial to our success. This might run counter to our competitive instinct - as other boutique hotels are vying for the same customers and offering comparable products, making them apparent rivals. But when we consider that we are all up against the might of the big hotel chains and the heavy financial weight and power they wield, all of us independent hotels are on the same side. 

To succeed to the height of our abilities, we need to exploit our strengths, and the best way to do this is by combining forces and making the most of the virtues we all share. When the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association was created in 2009, the sector was still in its infancy. Since then, of course, the popularity of boutique hotels has skyrocketed – and it continues to grow apace. 

Alongside this explosion in popularity, we have been able to develop an organisation that assembles the finest boutique and lifestyle hotels under one roof. Thanks to our members’ participation and teamwork we’ve been able to offer them many advantages and are proud to have contributed to their successes. 

One example of this is our StayBoutique initiative, which has provided a platform for members to advertise their business and take direct bookings, with all proceeds going direct to the hotels. Under the StayBoutique umbrella we’ve put together a catalogue of some of the finest boutique and luxury hotels in the world, all approved and recommended by BLLA. The result is a database of distinctive and beautiful hotels that provides considerable value both to customers and hoteliers, and is a great example of how combining our strengths makes great business sense. 

Another advantage lies in the sharing of knowledge between association members. Being independent-minded is all well and good, but we have a lot to gain from spreading the insights we have gained from the practical experience of running a boutique hotel day in, day out. Through BLLA our members have a reliable and trustworthy platform to pool their knowledge and create a better informed business for all of them. 

Our organisation provides numerous opportunities for networking and sharing of information, where you can meet and learn from some of the industry’s brightest and best, both in a series inspiring and groundbreaking talks and workshops, and in our productive networking sessions. 

The independent spirit of the boutique sector attracts a formidable variety of visionaries and pioneer thinkers. Where else, for example, would you find the likes of serial pioneer Ian Schrader, Parisian designer and creative whirlwind Marc Ange, or Belgian lawyer-turned-quirky hotelier Jo Vanbelle? Together we have a great power to inspire and encourage each other. And BLLA has created conditions in which we can pool our knowledge and work together without compromising our individuality. 

In the eight years since BLLA was formed, the charms of boutique hotels have become so much more widely known, and the popularity of what we offer is so great that the mainstream hotel industry has been forced to take notice. ‘Boutique’ is still a very fashionable word and everyone wants in on the action – hence the emergence of ‘fake boutique’ hotels managed by major hotel chains, and the mainstream adoption of quirky, individual details that strive to recreate a little piece of the charisma that makes our establishments so appealing. 

But there is no substitute for true individuality in terms of appeal, and no luxury like the truly personal. But how do holidaymakers discern true boutique hotels from big-business substitutes when a quick flick through a tourism website might not yield this information? We as an industry need to inform customers about who we are, what we do, and where to find authentic, high-quality version of the boutique experience. 

This is why the value of a unifying standard cannot be underestimated. And by bringing together the best of the independent and unique, BLLA has created a mark of quality that can be relied upon. We are the gold standard when it comes to independent luxury hotels. 

This is, after all, no small business concern we are talking about, nor is the boutique and lifestyle offering a passing fad. It is estimated that half of the world’s hotels are independently owned – a fact confirmed by former Starwood CEO Adam Aron. And half of those are boutique or lifestyle hotels. We are many, we are here to stay, and we treasure our independence and uniqueness. BLLA provides boutique and lifestyle hotels with the platform to celebrate their uniqueness and find the success they deserve. 

The values we share as boutique and lifestyle hotels are the things that make the travel industry truly shine: individuality, character, a personal touch and a real sense of luxury. By banding together we can help each other - and help others to realise our virtues. And, like two waiters laying a tablecloth together, by collaborating we can achieve the best possible results. 

Trend Report: In These Times Everyone Needs to be a Great Editor

Cory Ingram
Founder & Creative Director
Identity Atelier

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Today’s hotel design team needs to have vision and quest to enable thinking like an editor and building incredible brand equity through storytelling, activations and design. Like all creative endeavors, it’s all about the meticulous work that goes into making projects come off as totally effortless, with every detail harmonizing with the next. From my experiences, The more of an impression you can leave on a guest, the more likely they are to share those experiences with their networks and come back for more. 

Leading with experiences that focus on natural authenticity and that are supported by community-based actions is the best methodology. For instance, the lobby space for Unscripted, a new brand from the Dream Hotel Group in Durham, is a highly activated space. A great example to visualize - - records are playing while serving classic martinis in vintage glassware—all while a live drawing class is taking place. Guests walk into the excitement and are ready to share what is created for them on their social networks. It’s all about using all the items in your toolbox to create a dynamic, exciting environment for them respond to.    

One example of an editorial approach is to tell narratives that guests can appreciate without a hard explanation.  For instance, at The Restoration Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, a very strong brand narrative of Americana and the concept of Freedom + Travel was created and then those ideas were surrounded with dynamic programming that supported the themes. A great example of this are the curated full scale, gallery-quality exhibitions of things like authentic vintage American flags and religious artifacts that speak to Charleston being named “The Holy City.”

Vintage flags were displayed all across property, from farm to table restaurant The Watch, to our retail store The Port Mercantile, to our coffee shop, The Rise. In every outlet, included was a little nugget of narrative and it captivated guests attention, resulting in a flurry of social posts and revenue. With prices ranging from $800 to $25,000, 23 out of the 26 flags on display were sold. A new iteration of the exhibition is being launched this summer. 

These kinds of editorially-minded successes require a lot of heavy curation and an obsession with detail. It’s more than just implementing on property; today we have to think in terms of all the narrative platforms: social, blog, newsletters, digital, publicity and of course, print, which includes a magazine, signage and a cohesive gallery guide. 

The coordination of alot of thinking and creative partnerships is key to success for such a small property.  In addition to coordinating the physical, rich content is very important. In the third issue of the property’s Cultural Almanac, there is a collection of articles and features that tie into on-property messaging, like how much we love SEWE, a Southeastern wildlife community-driven event that takes place in February. It’s all about refining and editing layers and layers of experience, from retail to print to social, and letting guests dive in. 

Continuing to work with the philosophy of blurring lines between highly layered experiences, a project director cancast a vision for many projects. An example is Dream Hotel Group’s “Meet The Makers” program that is focused on a campaign that helps tell rich stories around the newly opened Dream Hollywood that speaks directly to the brand’s DNA. 

Utilizing the pillars of “Cottage, Craft, and Hand” to reconnect with the great craftsmen and women of the Los Angeles creative community, links with custom guitar designers, mad hatters, cordwainer, and botanists to showcase their unique products in our shop is an integral part of the design. Additionally we are programming workshops and Q&A’s in versatile space at the property. We are also getting an exclusive look inside the makers’ studios through videos and interviews that will be shared across many digital channels; a very effective way to create organic buzz. 

As customers become increasingly sophisticated thanks to social media and image-savvy tastemakers, the best hospitality brands are now in the business of “universe building” and sharing their visions across a mix of physical, as well as conceptual, mediums. There’s no limit to what kinds of experiences we can create for our guests and partners, and that makes for a very exciting future. 

A Look at the Future of the Boutique Hotel Industry

BLLA’s Annual Sentiment Survey ….. results revealed

A little insight is a valuable thing in hospitality, and the value of comparing notes and getting an overview on the industry in general and broader trends is huge. These kinds of insights are also one of the reasons BLLA is such a useful organization to be part of for the Boutique & Lifestyle sector. And nowhere is this truer than in our annual Sentiment Survey, an essential overview of the state of this thriving area of the hospitality industry.

We reached out to you, our ever-expanding network of more than 1,000 of the finest Boutique & Lifestyle hoteliers, to find out the truth about the state of the sector in 2017. Our questions probed to the heart of the industry and uncovered vital information about the state of play in Boutique & Lifestyle, what is working and what isn’t, key trends and information about this most exciting and vital of hospitality sectors.

The picture that emerges from all of this data is that the Boutique & Lifestyle sector is in better health than ever, looking to the future whilst also conscious of preserving its heritage. Our survey will serve as a vital resource in making decisions that affect the future of your business and of the industry-at-large. 

The world of Boutique & Lifestyle Luxury hotels changes and develops at a fast pace and so these answers and insights will help us all to navigate this ever-shifting landscape in informed and savvy ways. 

SURVEY RESULTS

Survey demographics

The majority of those who responded were from North America, which represented 88.89% of responses; and the second largest group was those based in Europe, which made up 11.11% of the survey responses. Of the hotels that took part, 40% were small hotels with 51-100 rooms; 30% had between 1 and 50 rooms; 20% had between 101 and 50 rooms; and 10% had more than 150. 

Half of the survey responses were from urban hotels; a fifth of respondents were based in the countryside; 10% were in beach and mountain resorts; and a further fifth categorized their environment as ‘other’.

Analyzing the results

The data from this survey gives us an informed look at the state of the industry and helps us answer questions such as ‘What are Boutique & Lifestyle Luxury hoteliers’ greatest concerns in 2017?’, ‘What are the biggest trends in the sector?’ and ‘What are the industry’s plans for the future?’

We see a picture of a sector in the peak of health, able to change and develop to keep pace with constant developments in technology, but proudly upholding its core strengths of great customer service, a personalized touch, and a focus on providing one-off experiences to guests. We also see a wealth of ambition, with an impressive 90% of those surveyed saying they are harboring plans to expand their business. 

Big chains

The question: What do you think the big chains have learned from studying our independent Boutique and Lifestyle hospitality segment these past 5-6 years?

One story that has been hard to ignore in the past year is the steady infiltration of the big chains into areas previously reserved for Boutique & Lifestyle hotels, looking to cash in on the sector’s ever-growing appeal. We asked our responders what they felt the big chains had learned from studying our independent segment for the past five to six years. 

Several emphasized the importance of offering unique, one-off experiences: “Guests are looking to have enhanced experiences that are unique and not cookie-cutter. They want those Instagrammable moments.”

A few said that customer service and staff training were paramount; and authentic local flavors were also said to be important. “They want to experience the ‘place’ and not just the amenities the hotel has to offer.”

And one thoughtful response looked at the influence of boutique hotel design – and how our independence allows for greater creative freedom. “They have realized that the institutional look of hotels is no longer desirable. But they will still suffer from imposed brand standards that will put a damper on genuine creativity.”

Maintaining our independent spirit

The question: How do acquired boutique hotels maintain their independent spirit alongside a big “chain” brand?

Related to this is the question of how we can best maintain our independent spirit faced with the might of these big chains. Here there was a fascinating diversity of responses. Personalized experiences again factored large (“customization and personalization of services to meet the needs of each traveler”), as well as the appeal of local culture and authenticity. 

Some responders mentioned smart technology and sustainable technology, while others said that the solution lay in finding their niche, referencing the brand agility that independence allows for: “Boutique hotels can be nimble, unlike their chain-branded competitors”; “We can add in trends faster than chains can, as we’re more mobile – and keep reinventing ourselves.” 

Development

Question: For new market development, what makes for the ideal landscape?

What about the landscape for establishing a new market: is it better to redevelop heritage properties or build new ones? The majority of our survey (63.50%) favored renovation, but a sizeable proportion (36.50%) responded that new construction was a better environment – an answer base reflecting the healthy diversity of the sector in general. 

Differentiation

Question: As major hotel brands and the Airbnb and similar sites compete for space in the boutique hotel world, how will you continue to differentiate?

Next we asked how hoteliers intended to keep their market share in the face of Airbnb and similar sites competing for space in the boutique hotel world. Several responses emphasized service (“We do a few things exceptionally better than competitors - unique service and WOW moments”). Individuality was also considered a factor (“Copying other people’s designs and playbook is what the brands and some boutique wannabes are great at. Real competitiveness comes from originality”).

Other responses cited specifics such as marketing strategy, local sources, bacteria-free guest rooms and sustainable technology, and one hotelier said it was all about a state of mind: “The intent of the hotelier and their story will always be the true factor for what makes a great boutique hotel.”

Design and technology

Question: How do you plan to use design or technology to differentiate in ever-competing landscape?

Next we asked those surveyed about how they planned to use design or technology to differentiate in the competitive market. Responses hit on subjects such as customization and online check-in, keyless entry systems, TV on demand and guest-profiling technology. 

In the realm of design several of our survey respondents talked about the importance of reflecting the local environment in the design, “the rich history of our building and neighborhood”, as well as natural elements such as stone and wood. 

We were also curious as to what property management system those surveyed were using. The most popular was Opera (33.33%), followed by RoomKeyPMS (11.11%).

Definition of luxury

Question: What do you believe is today’s definition of luxury?

It’s a word that gets thrown around a ton in the industry but what does ‘luxury’ mean to Boutique & Luxury hoteliers in 2017? Once again the importance of personalized service was emphasized in the responses (“Service that goes above and beyond – anticipating the guests’ needs before they do!”) 

Others said it was about providing experiences that transcended the norm (“the ability to exceed expectations in unique crafted ways that are not expected”) and giving guests a memory to treasure (“provide something that money cannot pay for, or if it can… searching for the best way for the guest to feel like a local during their stay”).

Some responders felt the question of luxury was more complex. “Luxury is defined by the standards set by your target market,” said one. “Luxury is no longer a blanket/all-encompassing set of characteristics that may have defined luxury 20-30 years ago.” And yet another felt the American concept of luxury was somewhat lacking (“Only Asian brands truly know what luxury is”).

Hotel of the future

Question: What does the hotel of the future look like to you?

Casting our gaze forward into the mists of time, what does the future hold for our sector of the hospitality industry? This was another question that inspired a variety of responses. One hotelier predicted that the evolution of hotels would reflect that of the retail industry, as “the full-service institutional brands are becoming dinosaurs.”

The idea of experiences came up once again. “The future will hold a focus on experiences and local market/culture influences.” Convenience and choice were seen as important by some (“I think the hotel industry is on the verge of a big change as guests demand more and convenience is expected”.) 

Yet other respondents said that local factors would become increasingly important (“the hotel of the future will provide guests with an immersion into the destination that they are visiting”).

External factors

Question: What external factors do you think have the most impact on your business?

Next we asked our survey subjects what external factors had the most impact on their businesses. 70% said that customer behavior was the most important factor; and there was a tie for second place, between increasing/changing competition and “other macro-economic factors” such as weather and political stability (both at 20%). Decreased demand and “other factors” each received 10% of the vote.

Political landscape

Question: Do you believe the new U.S. 2017 White House will have an impact on our industry?

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Talking of political stability (or otherwise) we wanted to know what kind of impact hoteliers thought this year’s change of staff in the White House would have on the industry. Interestingly, 50% thought that it would have a positive impact on the industry, citing that “the 2017 White House has more business experience than the past” and “may make things easier through deregulation.” 40% believed the impact would be negative (“concerned about travelers not wanting to come to the USA, or who the president will upset”; “closing or restricting borders will not help the industry”); and 10% thought it would have no impact at all on hospitality.

Competitors

Question: How do you rank these competitors as potential threats to boutique & lifestyle hotels? 

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Asked where the greatest threat in terms of competition lay in the industry right now, responders rated the stronger threat on average on the part of their rival boutique hotels; next in line were the big-chain boutique brands (such as Marriott’s Autograph Collection and Hilton’s Curio), and major hotel brands. Shared accommodation platforms such as Airbnb were rated lowest in terms of their threat to Boutique & Luxury hotels’ businesses. Asked about other threats to business, hoteliers mentioned the difficulty of competing with central urban hotels due to the high rates, and the difficulty of finding quality employees.

Innovations

Question: Where do you see most innovative solutions flourish in the boutique hotel industry?

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We asked where responders felt the most innovations in the boutique hotel industry lay. Here food and beverages rated highest (30%), followed by customer service (20%) and technology (10%).

Value, performance and profitability

Question: How would you judge your ability to add value and drive performance at your hotel? What are the biggest cost pressure points you face to maintain profitability?

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So how well do you rate your own performance? 60% of those who responded rated their ability to drive value and performance as ‘good’; 30% rated theirs as ‘excellent’; and 10% considered themselves ‘average’ in this matter. 

The biggest cost pressure points mentioned were rising payroll (50%), rate transparency due to online distribution (40%), the cost of distribution (20%), the cost of technology (20%), and 10% said other costs were more important. 

Focus of business

Question: What areas of your business take most of your attention?

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We asked what areas of the business take up most attention, and those surveyed were invited to select three answers. In joint lead were sales and marketing activities, and food and beverages (both at 60%). After that came refurbishment, control of costs and internal management issues (all at 30%). The rooms came in last, at 10%.

Competitive advantage

Question: What is your main competitive advantage?

Asked what their main competitive advantage is, 20% said advanced technology, 20% replied that it was their image to the market, 20% said it was their best product or service, 10% said it was their operational management such as cost control, and a further 20% simply replied that they didn’t know what their competitive advantage was.

Social media

Question: Which social media sites do you believe have the most potential for your business?

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It’s hard to get away from social media nowadays, but which is the most important in the eyes of the Boutique & Lifestyle hotel sector? Instagram rated the highest at 40%, followed by Facebook (30%), LinkedIn (10%), other social media (also 10%), and a further 10% said none of them were important.

Bookings

Question: From which source do you get most of your bookings?

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As to where hotels got the majority of their bookings, 44.44% said most of their bookings were direct, be it through their website, on the phone or via email. 22.22% cited online agents such as Expedia and Booking.com as being their primary source. 11.11% mentioned traditional travel agents as being more important.

Costs

Question: What percentage of cost does your payroll represent? How much is your sales & marketing spend as a percentage of revenue?

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30% of those surveyed said they spent 20-30% of their budget on payroll, and another 30% said it covered 30-40% of theirs. 20% said payroll represented more than 40% of their total outgoings.

In the case of sales and marketing, 40% said this represented 2-5% of their budget; another 40% said they spent more than 5% of their budget in this area; and 20% were unaware of their sales and marketing budget.

Food and beverages

Question: What is the percentage contribution of F & B to your hotel revenue?

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The contribution of food and beverages to hotel’s profits is on the rise, with half of the survey base saying food and beverages make up 20-30% of their total profits, 10% saying it made up 30-40% of their hotel’s income, and 20% saying it was responsible for 0-20%. 

Expansion plans

Question: Are you planning to expand your business? (new openings, new outlets, etc.)

The Boutique & Luxury Lifestyle market is an ambitious one, with 40% of those who responded saying they plan to expand their business in the next six months, 10% harboring expansion plans for the next 12 months, and 20% planning to expand in the next two years. 10% said they wanted to expand but weren’t sure when. Only 10% said they had no plans to expand (and 10% were unsure).

Conclusions

It has been another vintage year in the world of Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging hotels as the popularity of these properties continues to grow, and the survey results reflect the constantly shifting and growing nature of this sector. The results show boutique hoteliers are focused on services, technology and innovations, and 90% of them harbor plans for innovation, with 40% aiming to carry these out within the next six months

Boutique hotels know how to play their size and independence to their own advantage by being quick to adopt new innovations and by being quick to respond to the demands of their clientele. There is also a clear focus on perennial values like great service and a personal touch, which this sector has always excelled at. 

This year’s survey shows an increased focus on sales and marketing as boutique hotels are quickly learning to harness the tools they need to succeed in the competitive marketplace. Our hotels are taking the majority of their bookings direct through their own sites, as well as dealing with online agents like Expedia and Booking.com. In the social media world, Instagram has overtaken Facebook to become the most important network in the eyes of hoteliers, and our members talk of the importance of the “Instagram moment” at their properties. 

Financially the biggest pressure point is payroll. Boutique hoteliers are conscious of the competition from “fake boutique” hotels run by big brands, which BLLA members see as a much bigger threat than sites such as Airbnb. But the biggest perceived threat is from fellow boutique hotels – further proof that the sector is healthier than ever.

BLLA Has Changed

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In the decade since BLLA was created, boutique and luxury lifestyle hotels have grown from being a niche concern into a huge international phenomenon. Boutique is now the mainstream and our beloved sector contains some of hospitality’s most important movers and shakers. 

This growth calls for a fresh attitude towards our community, an inclusivity that is our new watchword. We’re working hard to provide the perfect resources to unify and support a huge worldwide boutique community. As well as diehard independents, there’s also room in the mix for soft-brands – some of those independently run offshoots of major chains such as Marriott’s Autograph Collection and Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Of course, ‘boutique’ means much more than just hotels, and we are proud to lend our support to the variety of initiatives that have grown up around our niche, including stores, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and gyms. 

This inclusivity brings with it novel and invaluable ways to bring our members together and forge new collaborations. This conference is the first in a series of events that will provide a much-needed club-like gathering of individuals that will further bind the boutique community closer together. 

We’ve also launched our BLLA Grand Bazaar online marketplace, where boutique and luxury lifestyle hotel owners can source hand-picked and high-quality suppliers, manufacturers and service providers to help meet the high standards of luxury they aim for.

Additionally, we’re working to shape and influence public perception of the sector via our inspirational platform and booking website Stay Boutique. Our hand-picked selection of great boutique hotels shows off everything that’s great about this ever-growing community.

Our expanding network of events, publications and collaborations brings many chances for members and prospective members to meet and learn from each other. By sharing ideas and experiences we can stay ahead of changing trends in the industry, learn from those who have achieved success and inspire each other to reach further. 

Many of our greatest ideas are products of collaborations, and at BLLA we’re striving to foster the most inclusive, helpful and open-minded community around. And, of course, we couldn’t do it without you. 

Boutique Has Changed

By
Ariela Kiradjian
Vice President, BLLA
Co-Founder, Stay Boutique

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I remember being in middle school when my mother decided she wanted to be the silent hero of boutique hotels. She would discuss with my father and I how hotels of this type were the future, but when she went to conferences and met with business friends, no one believed her. However, she didn’t let this negative energy prevent her from helping boutique hotels to finally have their moment. 

Eight years later, here we are. Boutique hotels have grown to be the driving force in hospitality, the industry’s greatest and most influential trend to date. Yet now the white elephant in the room is the question: what’s next?

I have a two-part answer to this. Firstly, collaborations are trending like crazy. Working together with other brands is smart business when you can use each other’s strengths to help compensate for any weaknesses. The hotel industry should take inspiration from the fashion world, where collaborations are bigger than ever – from Rihanna’s partnership with Puma to Off-White collaborating with FWRD, and Louis Vuitton creating art on its handbags with Jeff Koons. In today’s world, it’s not always about you. Our culture is becoming less focused on the individual than about community and working together; and collaborations are a natural way to reflect this

The second part of my answer is all about BLLA’s new catchphrases:

‘Boutique is not just a hotel, it’s an experience

and

‘Any industry can join the community’

BOOM! With those two announcements, BLLA has changed hospitality and prepared the industry for the future. (We’re not afraid to disrupt – we thrive on change.)
We’ve just opened the doors of the boutique community to the world. 

Simply having a small amount of rooms doesn’t make a hotel ‘boutique’. It’s about so much more than that. Boutique is just as much about an ethos and an innovative approach. Leaders in other industries have many similarities with boutique hoteliers (out-of-the-box, genuine forward-thinkers). So we’ve broadened the scope of our organization to include like-minded businesses from across the board.

That’s what BLLA is all about now: connecting all the boutique communities together, whether they be hotels, restaurants, bars, fitness studios, retailers, fashion labels, liquor brands, or countless other alternatives. 

Our family just got a whole lot bigger.   

CBRE – BLLA Boutique Lodging Forecast

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CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research (CBRE), in conjunction The Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA), recently prepared their preliminary September 2017 forecast of Trends® and Expectations for Boutique and Lifestyle Hotels – U.S. Each quarter CBRE presents updated forecasts of performance for the boutique and lifestyle segment of the lodging industry based on four industry-competitive classification categories developed by CBRE and BLLA. Representative examples of the classifications utilized in our analysis and described herein are shown in the table below.

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In addition, the quarterly reports contain CBRE’s latest forecast data for the overall U.S. lodging industry, commentary on the vital economic indicators impacting U.S. lodging performance, and development activity within the boutique and lifestyle segment. As a bonus addendum, once a year CBRE extracts data from our Trends® in the Hotel Industry database and provide revenue, expense, and profit metrics for boutique and lifestyle hotels to assist owners and operators benchmark the financial performance of their properties.

The 2017 forecast performance for Boutique and Lifestyle hotels varies significantly by segment sub-category. Boutique properties associated with Soft Brands are projected to enjoy the greatest gains in RevPAR during the year, however, they will continue to achieve the lowest levels of occupancy and ADR. The Legacy Brand segment will see the greatest levels of new competition come on line in 2017. Therefore, these hotels that are affiliated with the boutique brands of the major hotel companies are forecast to suffer a second consecutive year of declining RevPAR.

 

Independent boutique hotels, and those that are associated with a Referral Group, will continue to achieve the greatest average daily room rates in 2017, and enjoy a modest increase in RevPAR. Properties affiliated with Boutique and Lifestyle Brands will experience a modest decrease in RevPAR for the year as gains in ADR are not projected to offset the expected decline in occupancy for this group. Looking towards 2018, all four sub-categories of Boutique and Lifestyle hotels are anticipated to post RevPAR gains, ranging from 1.8 to 3.0 percent. Soft brands are forecast to achieve the largest gains in ADR, although also the largest decline in occupancy of the four sub-groups of boutique hotels. Independent and Referral Group hotels are forecast to achieve the largest RevPAR gain, posting increases in both ADR and occupancy levels. Given the modest forecast for RevPAR growth over the next few years, it will be management’s ability to control costs that will enable continued profit growth. Additionally, as boutique hotels gain a wider acceptance and are able to market themselves effectively through social media and emerging technologies to an audience seeking a unique experience, we are seeing growth opportunities in secondary and tertiary markets that would have been uncommon in the last cycle. 

To subscribe to four quarterly editions of Trends® and Expectations for Boutique and Lifestyle Hotels U.S., please visit the CBRE website at pip.cbrehotels.com (Other Publications).

The Hostel Revolution

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It's hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since my sister and I went backpacking, post-university. I love travelling. Besides opening our minds and horizons, it combines two of my favourite things - meeting people and seeing new places. Clink Hostels is the company I co-founded with my sister after our travels together, and fuelled by our love of hostelling. 

Wherever we were in the world, finding a good hostel was like finding a home on the road. And there are so many great hostels, each with their own particular character. In those days, the set-up was usually pretty basic, but the sense of camaraderie and community at some of the places we stayed in was tangible and addictive. We knew it was the business we wanted to be in, but we wanted to do it better whilst still capturing that sense of warmth and friendship. Clink now has three ‘homes from home’ - two in London and one new and ambitious one in Amsterdam. There are plans afoot to open more Clink locations across Europe over the next few years. The aim for us? To be the affordable places to stay, where amazing city experiences start for our guests, to provide them with the knowledge they need to make the most of each city and, last but not least, to deliver unique surroundings that are friendly, fun, social and creative. 

I’d certainly agree with BLLA in saying that there’s a kind of ‘hostel revolution’ going on right now. It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry and I’d venture to say that Clink are riding the zeitgeist with the best of them. Years ago, hostels catered solely to the backpacker market - travellers on the tightest of budgets who were willing to compromise on the comforts associated with hotel accommodation in return for a cheap bed. That’s all changed. Hostels today, certainly in the European market, have come to stand for something more; they’ve opened up to a new kind of traveller who is looking for affordable, well-designed, hip and social accommodation.

The average guest staying at Clink is around 24 years old. Today the traditional backpacker, like yesteryear, still wants to spend their disposable income on experiences in the cities they visit rather than paying for a smart hotel. A budget ‘no-frills’ hotel serves its purpose, but the new ‘boutique’ kind of hostel will win out for the discerning millennial traveller… and GenZ, who are already on their way! With a mixture of private and dormitory options, sharp event programming, and friendly, clued-up staff, the convivial atmosphere facilitates opportunities for authentic connections between both the city and people.

The word ‘poshtel’ often crops up in commentary surrounding this new generation of hostels. And it’s not hard to see why. An astonishing amount of time, effort and money is spent on ensuring that the interiors and furnishings are inviting, extremely comfortable and exciting. Alongside great interiors there are often an array of services you’d expect at top end hotels; bars and nightclubs, comfortable relaxation areas, great places to eat, well-trained, helpful and knowledgeable staff who often have as much local insight as the concierge in five star establishments – but a lot more price savvy!

At Clink we place emphasis on great design and great service – we worked closely with innovative Dutch architects on our recent renovation of the old Royal Dutch Shell Head Offices in Amsterdam. But, first and foremost, we pride ourselves on the friendliness of our teams at every Clink hostel. We aren’t flashy and we don’t really align ourselves with the word ‘poshtel.’ The main focus at our hostels is to make visiting a great city accessible to all. We want our guests to feel completely welcome from the moment that they step through the door, fostering a fantastic social experience and helping them to make the most of their trip.

For that reason, communal areas make up a big proportion of Clink's interiors. They’re designed in a way that’s really geared up for social interaction, with a perfect mixture of cosy corners and livelier areas. Our events teams do an amazing job of lining up in-hostel events most evenings, from cocktail making classes to scrabble nights! The teams are always happy to share their favourite local hotspots with guests. ClinkCREATIVE is our collection of programmes that bring art and music into the hostels. Musicians stay for free in exchange for playing a gig for our guests, artists can use space to paint and exhibit. Our initiative is to engage and connect creatives, travellers and the local community. 

We’ve tried to maintain the idea that hostels are, above all else, about interactions; between places and people. We like to think that you can turn up alone or in a group at a Clink hostel and immediately feel part of a community. That’s what my sister and I loved so much about the good places we stayed in when we were backpackers. The standard of hostels has soared – and that’s a great thing – but I’m determined to make sure that Clink remains true to the essence of hostelling; the ‘home from home’ feeling that is at the heart of what we do.

You're Doing it Wrong!

Why Customer Centricity’s the Future of APAC Boutique Hotel Development
By Girish Jhunjhnuwala
Founder, Ovolo Group

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If I asked you as a hotelier what you thought was most important to provide your guests, what would your answer be? A clean bed? That’s a given. Attentive staff? Everyone has that. A great deal? A cheap rate will only get you so far. For centuries, the general model in hotel development was tobuild a property fit for a restful stay, and replenish guests by offering some food & beverage, all at a cost to sell the almighty room night. This model of course hasn’t changed. It’s the bedrock of what makes a hotel. But what has worked consistently to the favour of hoteliers, has quickly suffered to the detriment of who we work for – that person who strive each and every day to please, take care of, and of course, accommodate: The customer. 

Boutique hoteliers and developers in the West wised up to the idea of Customer Centricity several years ago, but it’s only been as of late that the trend has started gaining attention in Asia Pacific. Being customer-centric comes from asking a simple question – if you were the customer, what would YOU want? 

Ovolo Hotels was founded on this question. Travelling around the world in a past life, running my family’s watch business, I had my fair share of experiences staying in hotels. Several questions kept bothering me through these experiences – why was I being charged for items like water and a bag of nuts in a room I paid for? Shouldn’t these things be inclusive? How was I supposed to relax if I’m feeling nickel and dimed at every corner? Then I started to think – has anyone in the hotel business in APAC actually thought what the customer wants?  

When I set out to form Ovolo, I made customer centricity our central focus from day one – having it drive the brand’s design, marketing, recruitment and operational development at every step of the way. The result, has not only produced multi-award winning hotels, but has benefited our bottom line greater than I could have ever imagined. Here’s how we did it each step of the way. 

Design That Fits with the Customer

For too long boutique hoteliers have put too great of an emphasis on design in their property development. Hiring a fancy design and architectural firm is one thing, but does the customer really care about that award-winning lamp you’ve placed in every guestroom, if its occupying the only power port? 

Did you know that today’s traveller carries on average two digital devices with them on every trip? Those devices need power, and your guest will be none too happy when they find out they have to compromise – do they want light or a fully-charged phone? Overdesign is another pitfall of boutique hoteliers. What might look good in a magazine, may turn off guests from ever coming back. Functionality is becoming the main driver of boutique hotel design in the region. 

More and more hoteliers are getting involved in the design process with their architects and interior designers. I was fortunate to hire design firms who viewed themselves as partners instead of consultants in Ovolo’s projects. It’s fine to have that stylish lamp in the corner, but if it isn’t heightening the guests experience, you might as well forget about it. 

Communication That Talks Like the Customer

If functional design is how great boutique hotels are built, engaging marketing campaigns are how brands are born. Boutique hotel marketing in Asia has gone from being heavily reliant on big Advertising campaigns and Online Travel Agency partnerships to a direct conversation with customers. While there’s still a number of hotel guests that will just settle for the best price available, a rising number choose their accommodation based on multiple factors – location, loyalty rewards, inclusivity, the list goes on. 

What’s central to all of these factors is engagement, both active and passive. Active engagement comes from a multi-channel marketing engagement. Promoting a great campaign through one channel is no longer effective when the competition for attention is in the millions. 

Customer-centric communication is reached by speaking to audiences at every suitable channel to your customer. Marketing terms like Above The Line, or Below The Line are old news. Today, everything is Through The Line. In a Through The Line campaign, your new room package is shared across all platforms available and suitable – print & digital advertising, e-Newsletters, media relations, partnerships, content marketing, social media and more. To be successful in Through The Line marketing, is to offer a concise, targeted message that becomes repetitive but not annoying – leaving a lasting, and hopefully positive, impression on your customers view of your brand. 

Being passive is equally, if not even more important. As hoteliers, we know it’s not what we communicate that’s most important, it’s what others say about us. Traditionally passive promotion meant third party reviews from people like journalists and magazine editors. While the professionals still greatly matter in promoting the guest experience, customer to customer reviews are now a hotelier’s greatest asset. And the one place for this that can make or break hotels today, is TripAdvisor. 

While APAC hotels in the past would traditionally ignore their TripAdvisor pages, more are adopting a customer-centric approach to the global travel review site. APAC hoteliers are increasingly realising that by responding to TripAdvisor complaints as well as praises, their customers feel both heard and appreciated. The results always speak for themselves – guests are twice more likely to re-book seeing a highly engaged hotel on TripAdvisor. And with sites like TripAdvisor re-writing hotel star ratings, a customer-centric approach offers hoteliers that chance to raise their ranking – Ovolo Woolloomooloo & Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour are perfect examples of this. Our hotels ranked in the high 40’s of Sydney hotels when they purchased. After their first years, with strong focus on customer-centricity, both have climbed the ranks to become Australia’s #2 & #5 best hotels respectively. 

When it comes to customer-centric communication, relatable engagement are the keywords. APAC hoteliers are rapidly understanding that connecting with your customer in the way they communicate, and speaking how they speak, are the strongest skills boutique hoteliers have to differentiating their product. In order to be customer-centric, hoteliers need a like-minded staff and operational procedures. But what would that actually look like? 

Customer-centricity Behind the Scenes

When it comes to ensuring the most seamless, customer-centric experience for guests, an effective communication policy & Integrated Guest Service System, coupled with a continuous feedback policy and process improvement system are good starting points.

The Guest Experience has to be a part of the company’s Vision and Philosophy – not an afterthought. At Ovolo we take our philosophy of “Effortless Living” and Vision of “Shiny Happy People” and engrain it not just in how we service our guests but also our team both Front of House (FoH) & Back of House (BoH).

We strive to create an engaged and happy workforce, and that starts with a hiring process based on culture fit and on-boarding focused on promoting the company’s vision. Once hired, performance reviews are centred on the guest experience in addition to of course financial KPIs.

By focusing on creating effortless guest experiences and constantly sharing and celebrating any feedback, we’ve found the financial results automatically followed. Specifically, teams on a regular basis celebrate continuous positive feedback and take pride in maintaining a leadership position in guest service.

We try to eliminate any separation between BoH and FoH staff and apply the same training, onboarding, reporting, KPIs and objectives at all levels. All of us have a customer-focused goal and that’s SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE all around. No confusion, so it’s absolutely simple.

Of course, it can be hard to keep BoH engaged so we work hard on it - our focus with BoH staff is on indirect interactions and to provide them with opportunities for increased guest engagement. This doesn’t mean they need to face the guest, but it’s about empowering them to make decisions that will benefit the guest. 

It’s important to celebrate daily successes as this helps drive the culture and make the team feel part of the process. FoH team members nominate BoH staff for their support role during our recognition program, placing an emphasis on the team effort that goes into our work.

Measure Success in Satisfaction, Not P&L

Customer centricity shouldn’t be a complicated process nor a laborious task in implementation. What’s vital to achieving it overall is a mental commitment from senior management down to the most junior of employees to conduct actions from the customer’s perspective. As the boutique hotel industry evolves in Asia, hoteliers looking to enter the market have to make a commitment to the guest experience first, and worry about their P&L second. Ovolo’s history has shown that when a customer-centricapproach is a hoteliers primary focus, customers respond with incredible results. And as we all know, a happy customer, is most likely a repeat customer. And what hotelier doesn’t want that? 

It's All in the Details

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In an industry that has long been mired in its old ways, we are seeing a renewed approach to how the hospitality industry informs their clientele from an aesthetic standpoint – through a refresh on design, style, ambiance, and most of all, experience. 

The guiding principle for this fresh perspective is an understanding that a little disruption goes a long way. Acute attention to detail has become just as important as a comfy bed. We now see discerning guests showing a predilection to spend money on experience rather than goods. They expect that experience to be an intriguing sensorial event that invokes their passions and creates unique memories.  

It is in this spirit that the uniform, once relegated to staid catalogues and a “one size fits all” approach, is now a major part of the design language that inform a brand’s DNA and guest experience. The uniform is no longer the sum of “uni” and “form” – but is now a tool that nonverbally communicates – “this is who we are.”

Your staff is the front line of your brand. From the moment a guest checks in to the moment they check out, almost every interaction is with a member of the staff. There becomes an instant disconnect in the brand narrative when a catalogue-ordered polyester vest and ill-fitting pant is juxtaposed against an expertly edited interior and perfectly manicured soundtrack. Your staff is an extension of your property – and their look becomes just as important as the architectural details that house them. 

We firmly believe the uniform is an essential part of a hotel’s storytelling. The uniform, in and of itself, is an experiential touchpoint. Style, character, personality and individuality are all part of the perception of your brand. Ultimately, the story of your brand is told by the people who work there. Not to mention, that when people look good, they feel good, and ultimately do better work. 

A good uniform should remain, at its core, workwear. Durability, functionality and sustainability should always be at the core – but no longer at the sacrifice of style. The clothing should be so well-intentioned in its design that by elevating its wearer, it in turn elevates the hotel as a whole. 

When designing uniforms, our challenge to ourselves is always “would we wear this?”. Our intent is to create pieces that are so design-driven that when staff get off shift, they won’t feel the need to immediately change to meet up with friends for after work dinner or drinks. Simply put, we filter every piece through the lens of the anti-uniform. And just as no two hotels are the same, no two design explorations follow the same path. Each property receives a fully bespoke program -  grounded in their individual brand narrative and geographic location. This entirely personalized approach ensures that no two uniform arrangements will ever be duplicated in whole. 

At the start of every design exploration, the fundamental rule we address is fit and proportion. In many cases, the updating of silhouette can make all the difference. With a few simple updates to length, cut, and even the size of a lapel, a look can instantly become a modern update on a classic. It’s then that we begin to drill down into specifics on fabric, color palettes, tailoring, accessories, trims, buttons, and other details that bring the uniform to life. 

The discerning traveler has come to expect that each and every hotel experience is defined by the “little things.” It is this ethos to which we prescribe - starting with a sound foundation on every level, then layering in the minute details and surprises. You’d be amazed at how far a well-intentioned lapel pin goes.

Greg Sato
Finery

Street Wear Stores that Boutique Hotels Should Work with

BLLA predicts that collaborations are the next greatest trend in hospitality. It’s all about working together to help each other. For instance, street-wear is the most powerful fashion trend for 2017. Even Louis Vuitton partnered with Supreme to launch a collection together (two brands you wouldn’t think would even be in the same category) as they saw the opportunity of helping each other and overlapping different markets to see the vision of both brands. The Ace Hotel’s “gift shop” is none other than one of the first modern fashion disruptors, Opening Ceremony. It’s amazing because these boutique travelers are able to relate to the hotel’s official gift shop because this only adds to the guest experience. The hotel experience and the modern retail experience both have similar visions as they both emphasize innovation and originality. BLLA predicts that this is only the start, that the boutique travelers will see this grow as boutique hoteliers continue to realize the significance of partnerships.

Supreme 

274 Lafayette St
Founder James Jebbia

“Over it’s twenty-two year history, Supreme has worked with some of our generation’s most groundbreaking designers, artists, photographers and musicians- all who have helped continue to define its unique identity and attitude.” - Supreme

HSWLD

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15 Essex St

“Brand was founded in 2009 by two brothers from Europe living in NYC with a background of skateboarding culture. They had a vision to emphasize the depths of art, fashion, and lifestyle; aiming to make their own spot within the realm of creativity. Starting off small and independent, they turned a living room into a handmade screen-printing studio. Gradually growing, they then started a garment production in Europe and opened the first store in New York City, 2014”

Stadium Goods 

47 Howard St
3,000 square flagship store in Soho
Owners John McPheters, Jed Stiller & Yu-Ming Wu

“We are a premium sneaker + streetwear marketplace selling only the most sought after footwear, apparel and other hard-to-find items on behalf of our sellers. We are driven by our principles and committed to providing the best consumer and consignment experience there is.” – Stadium Goods

Opening Ceremony 

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35 Howard St, Soho
Ace Hotel 1190-1192 Broadway, NoMad
Founder Carol Lim & Humberto Leon

“Taking its name and mission statement from the modern Olympic Games, founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Opening Ceremony adopts a multinational approach to retail. In addition to stocking both iconic and emerging homegrown designers, every year OC showcases the spirit and merchandise of a visiting country, transforming each store into a marketplace for exotic souvenirs and international talent.”- Opening Ceremony