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.
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.
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!
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.