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.