The Re-Birth of Retail

Stay Boutique Rewind Series
David Fishbein, Principal, Runyon Group

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With so many changes in retail shopping and consumers looking for something more experiential, the Runyon Group set out to create a new shopping experience in Century City, which they call Platform. Partners David Fishbein and Joseph Miller had an idea to create a shopping spot that would bring together incredible design and unique merchandising through food and interesting designers. “We’re seeing LA transforming from being this entertainment-focused culture to being one that is about food and design and incredible art, but we weren’t seeing it happen on the retail side,” David says.

People are looking to find a place that is comfortable, and they will have a fun experience exploring. They also want to find ideas and see products that they don’t find at every other store, which has been a big component to how Platform was set up with tenants. David shared how they created “these crazy rules where every larger brand tenant that comes to Platform has to do something unique, inclusive and special that is just for our property.” They did this with long-term growth in mind, knowing that these stores would expand throughout the city, but Platform would still have something that their other stores won’t. One tenant, Aesop Skin Care, agreed to put in a treatment/day spa room in their store to meet their requirement for having something unique to their Platform store.

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Runyon group also had to get very creative with marketing to secure their wish list of tenants because the neighborhood surrounding Platform didn’t show very well before their project began construction. “We created these custom, beautiful books for each client and sent it out to them all over the world, just to see what would happen,” David explained. “We had clients respond right away because they were intrigued by the space and how we marketed it.”

In the boutique industry, hotels are always working to keep differentiating themselves from other hotels. So, when David was asked what retail does to keep things exciting, he said, “I think the experience is everything these days. It’s creating events and interesting things that get people to come down and see what’s happening.” Also, things like creating beautiful vignettes that people want to hang out in and posting them on Instagram will often get consumers talking about your retail space. David also advocates for putting in a mixture of services at Platform, like a great nail salon and fitness spaces like Soul Cycle. However, he does feel the most important new anchor of retail in a neighborhood is the F&B. “Having an amazing chef or bakery is what’s bringing people down daily.”

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The New Hollywood

Stay Boutique Live Rewind Series
Grant King, Managing Partner, The Relevant Group

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Grant King and The Relevant Group’s vision to transform a decrepit Hollywood with a ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy began back in 2007. They knew, however, that they needed to make a splash and do something major to convince people that Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles were the hot places to be. Their focus was on creating a place that you can come to play and never have to leave; a place that has great food, great nightlife, great shopping, and you can stay the night.

With financing dried up in a recessed U.S. economy, Grant went to China to find investors for their product. The product they were selling was sexy Hollywood hotels. The plans had already been approved, so with their investors finally in place, The Relevant Group moved forward with their new Hollywood project called The Dream, which opened in the Summer of 2017. Grant believes that “selecting the right restaurant group, the right F&B group, top gyms, and great stores,” is key to creating a unique hotel experience like The Dream.

The Relevant Group is also currently developing a four-hotel village, connected by arches and given a Hollywood-driven name. It’s meant to bring people in and help rebrand the area. “Hollywood needs to play off what it is,” Grant says, “the entertainment zone. It needs good retail so that people will want to spend the night there and wake up to go shopping.” It's time for Hollywood to grow up and develop into a desirable location so that people will realize it's not a scary place to come and hang out.

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The Leader in the Boutique Candy World

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Rosie O’Neill, Co-Founder, Sugarfina

Have you ever been so inspired by a movie that you started a business around that inspiration? Well, that’s exactly what Rosie O’Neill did when she happened to see the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory one night. “Whatever happened to candy?” she thought to herself. “Why isn’t there a candy for grownups?” So, when April Fool’s Day rolled around, she partnered with a pressed juice company to make ‘green juice’ gummy bears, packaged them in a bottle labeled ‘7-Day cleanse’ and made a joke out of it. “It was unexpected and fun and caught people’s attention.” Rosie shared. And it eventually prompted Rosie and her husband to embark on her adult-flavored candy empire called, Sugarfina.

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With delicious adult candies like champagne gummy bears, tequila cordials, and mint chocolate caviar, Sugarfina has captured the eye of those in the boutique industry and prompted them to put the candy products in hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada. They will even personalize and customize on top of their base product for a hotel, like offering pink flamingos at the Beverly Hotel and pineapple candies at a hotel in Hawaii. “Boutique tells me there is a person and a story behind it,” Rosie says. “Someone who is thinking about it and obsessing about the details. You have thought through something so much that you have taken the best of the best and said ‘here is what I believe you need’.” That is exactly what Rosie does with Sugarfina. She notices food and thinks how she could implement that into a candy that adults would enjoy.

Rosie has noticed that big brands are dipping their toe into boutique as a marketing tool; saying, ‘Let’s put this in these 29 rooms and see what the response is’. While the Sugarfina stores are inviting, Rosie and her team also feel like they’ve got to do something unique to get people to buy their products. Offering taste while you shop events make the stores feel like a place to hang out. “Bloggers and influencers have been big fans of Sugarfina,” Rosie says. “We provide the candy and they get their friends together to experience it at their event.” Sounds like a match made in ‘candy’ heaven.

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Watch Rosie’s Full Interview Below!

Interviewed by Ariela Kiradjian, Co-Founder, Stay Boutique

The Future of Luxury

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Dr. Daniel Langer, CEO, Equité

Dr. Daniel Langer’s talk on ‘The Future of Luxury’ comes not from his many years in the hotel business, but from his experience of spending 50-80 nights a year staying in them. His company, Equité, is at the forefront of luxury brand strategy and encourages his clients to innovate outside of their comfort zone. “Luxury is not price,” Dr. Langer says, “it’s the ultimate treat and customers will pay for it. The product is not relevant, the experience is.” By applying ‘limited edition’ thinking, hotels can create value for the experience they offer and then price it. This makes your brand more powerful.

The experiences that hotels create for their guests are very important to gain a competitive advantage in the hotel industry. Dr. Langer encourages disrupting the old hotel ways of thinking to twist the experience. Like viewing a self-driving car not as a car, but as a chauffeur service; or an Apple store not as a store, but as an inspiration place. It’s going back to the root of what your product really is and thinking of it differently. When you give the consumer what is expected, it doesn’t excite them. Instead, exceed their expectations by giving them something they might not have even known they wanted.

“Luxury is difficult.” Dr. Langer acknowledges. “If not managed well, there is a high risk of destruction of brand equity.” Because there are very few tools to assist managers, most luxury brands are not managed to their potential. Assess whether every touchpoint in your hotel adds or subtracts from your brand equity and brand experience. Make sure that everyone in your organization knows what they must do for the brand to thrive. When your team knows what needs to be done and all the elements are in place from check-in to check-out, the consumer experience will be special. Because you have created a life experience for your guests, they will, in turn, desire your brand more and buy it at almost any price.

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LA’s OG Nightlife Group

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Sam Nazarian, CEO, sbe Group
Daniel del Olmo, ex-CEO, Disruptive Restaurant Group & Umami Burger

Watch their panel session below

Sam Nazarian’s sbe Group employs the ‘all under one roof’ philosophy for their global lifestyle communities, made up of over 150 luxury properties in North America. By strategically placing restaurants and bars within and surrounding your hotel, you can control the experience of your guests. Sam believes that in order to constantly stay relevant when you’re in so many business lines like sbe Group, you have to focus on more than design and gimmicks. “You have to have culinary and hospitality expertise to make these unique. If you’re courageous enough to have a point of view, you can outdo the cookie-cutter brand,” he says.

Food and beverage are the most difficult to do, which is why Umami Burger came to sbe. They knew by partnering with them they could be put into multiple hotels with more expansion likely. By consistently creating interesting partnerships with restaurants like Umami Burger and Cleo Hollywood, sbe Group has created disruptive brands that matter. Their partners understand how to operate at the level they do with chefs and staff focusing on every tiny detail. “As a lifestyle brand, you have to be sending your consumers what you think they expect from you,” Sam says. “With the desire for plant-based products growing, we are moving it into Cleo as well as Umami.”

Getting as many properties into a specific area as possible helps groups like sbe to solidify their position. By having one hotel and nine restaurants, all operating with the same dedication to service and luxury, you set a precedent that allows them to support and feed off each other. The desire of sbe Group is to create a legacy in hospitality by being authentic, while still being bold. “The smaller lifestyle groups don’t care about making money, it’s all about the brand; however, the big guys have to make money. Instead of being a big ship,” Sam says, “we’re a pretty cool yacht to be on.”

LA’s Favorite Boutique Nightlife Group

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
John Terzian, co-founder, The h.wood Group


“Exclusivity isn’t about being ‘too cool’, it’s about knowing who your regulars are.” says John Terzian co-founder of the h.wood Group. As the man with a pulse on Hollywood nightlife, John is the creative mind behind hot spots like Bootsy Bellows, The Nice Guy, and the members-only club Shorebar. John started out in the exclusive nightclub business when he noticed that there was a need to cater to a certain group of friends (including David Arquette), and friends of friends. The h.wood Group eventually moved from nightlife to bars and restaurants, and hotels are next on John’s list with their first venture opening soon in Chicago.

“Boutique sometimes gets a bad rap,” John says. “I cherish it and I believe what we do evolved around boutique and servicing customers. If it gets too big or appears to be, you lose the hands-on. You can have that big voice and still be small.” John believes. A lot of hotels forget about the management side because they get so focused on the numbers. Every aspect of the hospitality business must be looked at as a separate piece of a very large puzzle.

For a venue to stay relevant in any city, requires that it view itself as an organism that has to keep living and breathing. “If you’re not the best of the best, people are going to move on.” John reminds us. “You’ve won if you are drawing in people that have no need to be in the hotel; then you’ve done something special.” 

Food & Social Media Go Well Together

Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Jeremy Fall, Co-Founder, J Fall Group

What do you do when you’re an 11-year old boy and your step-dad tells you that women love men that cook? You follow Jeremy Fall’s lead and learn to cook...and then you grow up to become a restauranteur. Fall’s time spent learning the ins and outs of the restaurant industry from his family’s business parlayed his expansion into nightclub proprietorship and event production throughout Los Angeles. “The melting pot of LA culture and my background has definitely influenced my concepts,” he says.

Fall heard the word ‘exclusivity’ so much growing up in LA because there was such a huge disconnect between celebrities and mere mortals. That’s how it was in the days before Instagram and social media. “The cool kids were going to these pop-up party places, not red-carpet events,” he shares. “When I started working in nightclubs, there was only MySpace and Friendster to let people know what I was doing.”

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Boutique is a new area with a new sector that wants quality experiences. “We sense bullshit right away,” Fall says. “The current 2017 is looking for authenticity and wants to see a story on your (social media) feed that makes them believe you’re real.”

Fall has been passionate about this business his entire life, so he’s constantly thinking up new ideas and concepts. When he was younger he read about the rockers that used to go have breakfast for dinner after their shows on the Sunset strip. That stuck with him and inspired his evening hours restaurant Nighthawk Breakfast Bar. “All of our concepts sparked from something small,” he shares. “We take traditional Americana concepts and modernize it to give a different experience; to tell a story.”

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Food & Beverage Leaders

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Summary of the panel discussion at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Bernard Schwartz, Co-Founder, APICII
Chef Casey Lane
Christian Schultz, Design Director/Partner, Studio Collective

The Stay Boutique conference brought together some of our favorite leaders in hospitality Food & Beverage for a panel discussion that began with the question, ‘How is hotel F&B shifting?’

Bernard Schwartz, co-founder of APICII, believes the biggest shift is definitely in the hotel bar. “Bars are a driving factor to where customers decide to stay. Amenity is now it’s (a hotel’s) identity.” Christian Schultz, Design Director and Partner of Studio Collective, added that because there is so much competition today, “It takes a really well thought out game right now.” Bringing the consumer into the hotel in different ways, like small live music performances, book clubs, or engaging with the local art community also allows your guests the opportunity to interact with locals. “Design only goes so far, but you need to do things to provide a soulful experience for your guests and for the surrounding community,” Christian advised.

When asked why the hotel industry is so slow to respond with a focus on F&B, Chef Casey Lane remarked, “The level of competition makes it a scary risk. It’s hard to find someone to focus their attention on your space.” Bernard pointed out that he believes the slow response may be because, “Historically, the hotel management companies have not invested in F&B at the corporate level.”

Interviewer Jessica Blotter (Co-Founder of Kind Traveler) asked the panel what they thought gives a property the ‘X-Factor’. “It’s the opposite of the big-named, rubber stamp feeling hotel; offering something that has a soul.” Bernard says, adding, “Having a historic property gives you a jumpstart to already having a soul.” Casey’s take on the ‘X-Factor’ is “Really good curation of something that attracts a unique client.” He likes to invite in the community to be a part of what he’s offering as the chef in a hotel restaurant. Christian’s advice on the subject is, “Invest the time upfront to know who you are and what you want to be. Trying to please everyone all the time takes away your unique quality.”

Another current topic that was asked was about was sustainable resourcing and how that affects ROI (return on investment). Casey believes, “It’s a mandate; especially with food.” He advises that setting up a local group, including farmers and designers, helps make sustainable products work for any business. Christian suggests businesses, “Use real, natural materials that patina and wear with age, so hopefully you won’t have to renovate every five years.”

To round out the discussion, the panel shared what they think is working well in hotel F&B design today. Christian’s company, Studio Collective, designs from “location ground zero…our client, the location, something beautiful. New and fresh is what we end up with and it makes it successful in our mind.” Casey suggests, “Everyone can look at your space and tell if it’s an inspired design. Go back to a sense of time and place for that old building.”

Collaborations are Golden

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Kevin Osterhaus, Ex-President, SIXTY Hotels
Riley Eggers, Executive Producer, Pineapple Creative

When Riley Eggers, Executive Producer at Pineapple Creative, was looking for a space to film a product presentation video for her client, she reached out to SIXTY Hotels with a unique idea for a collaboration. The film would feature an up-and-coming model, Duckie Thot, and showcase the hotel’s sexy, stylish atmosphere as the backdrop. With the professional team at Kloss Films on board to direct, SIXTY Hotels President Kevin Osterhaus thought it was a gamble worth investing in.

“SIXTY Hotels launched over three years ago on a platform of growing and creating a dynamic guest experience’” Kevin says. “And how you portray yourself digitally is significant to our efforts of collaboration.” The biggest benefit of working on the Duckie project was that everyone involved would get to share it on social platforms, making it easier to reach a wider audience. Riley believes, “People want to know the story of your product before they purchase.” Brands used to create two campaigns a year, but now it’s more advantageous to create twenty in smaller chunks. “It gives brands flexibility about what they want to promote,” she says.

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When the video, “SIXTY Seconds of Duckie”, was released, the success was so big that the hotel decided to turn it into a brand video. “From the hotel side,” Kevin says, “the brand video was to create something we could use for our guests, social media, elevators, etc.” They have since released SIXTY Seconds videos for all their hotels, including SIXTY SoHo and SIXTY Miami. 

Because of the rapidly changing way that people are now experiencing hotel brands and bookings, “It’s wildly important that our content reflects innovation and we’ve got to get to people through their networks,” Kevin believes. Things like apps and hand-held applications have made it easy to book at hotels on a whim, therefore, hotels must be strategic about how they want to portray themselves and to which demographic they want to target.

Collaboration Breeds Creativity (Especially at Coachella)

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Ryan Bukstein, Vice President of Brand, Ace Hotels
Travis Mcmichael, Head of Brand Marketing, U.S., B&O Play

The collaboration between Ace Hotel Group and B&O Play (by Bang & Olufsen) at this year’s Coachella Music Festival may seem like a case of strange bedfellows, but nothing could be further from the truth. Ryan Bukstein (VP of Brand, Ace Hotel Group) and Travis McMichael (B&O Play) shared with the Stay Boutique audience how their unlikely pairing can inspire others to do the same and see what possibilities can be created.

Travis suggests that businesses ask themselves, ‘Where is the most powerful place to congregate my brand?’ “The Ace is a cultural watering hole, a place that is comfortable for meeting strangers,” he says. “That is what brought B&O to the Ace Hotel.” He continues, “Ask yourself, what are you creating together? Is it something people want and find interesting?”

While trends are real within any industry, the brands that base their collaboration on community-driven experiences benefit much more than when they just focus on what they want to sell. Bringing something unique to the combined experience, like doing a pop-up shop within a pop-up shop can mix things up and open your space to a whole group of unexpected consumers.

Ryan explains that “For Ace, it goes back to core principles for events. What is going to make your audience feel you’re adding to a conversation? How do you stand out? Know who you want to connect to and decide how you’re going to do that.” That sounds like solid advice for collaboration within any industry, boutique included.

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Boutique Travel Trends

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Gabriel Haigazian, Vice President, Creative Travel Group
Stacy Small, Founder & CEO, Elite Travel International
Nicholas Kontis, Circle the Planet

At this year’s Stay Boutique conference we had some great experts in the travel industry joined together for a panel discussion on the current travel trends they are seeing throughout the world. The conversation began with their thoughts on technology and how hospitality businesses can keep on top of it. Stacy Small, founder, and CEO of Elite Travel International shared how helpful it has been to her clients that some hotels will now text with their guests to make communication easier. “Technology is here, it’s going to stay, and it’s going to be more impactful in the future.” agreed Gabriel Haigazian, Vice-president of Creative Travel Group.

To illustrate his point, he introduced the audience to a global wifi service called Skyroam that costs only $10 per day and allows travelers to stay connected and reachable all day. One thing that all the panelists agreed upon is that paying extra for internet in hotels has got to go! They also agreed that hotels need to have plenty of power outlets and USB plug-ins in the rooms to accommodate today’s technology. People are tired of crawling behind furniture to find an outlet to charge their devices. It’s all part of making people feel like they are at home even when they are away.

When asked how hotel properties can maintain relevance while still encouraging guests to go off property, Nick Kontis, of Circle the Planet, reminded us that, “Experiential travel is here to stay.” Arranging for guests to go on a truffle hunt or lending a guest a Bentley to sightsee around the area are examples of how some hotels are offering location-specific experiences. Gabriels added, “Find something that is unique that people might not find out about on their own. Immersing themselves in with local families is something people love to do.”

“First impressions are lasting ones,” Gabriel told the audience when asked to share a favorite VIP experience. “I remember a hotel in LA, at the check-in counter, were flowers that you could pick and put into your room.” Stacy agreed that it’s the things that don’t cost that much that often stand out the most. She shared an account of a hotel in Palm Springs that had looked up her profile on Facebook and used a picture of her three dogs to personalize her hotel key card. That experience was over five years ago but has still stuck with her as a great memory of her stay.

Gabriel, Nick, and Stacy, in unison, impressed upon the Stay Boutique audience how important it is for hotels to empower their employees to be helpful and invested in the care of their guests. “Remove can’t, no, and I don’t know from their vocabulary.” Gabriel pleaded. When staff goes above and beyond for a guest it doesn’t go unnoticed. In today’s world of social media at your fingertips, if one client has a bad experience, a thousand people will hear about it. Like Nick said, “Good news travels. Bad news goes viral.”

Boutique Travel Blogging

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Summary of the keynote at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Celine Bossart, Creator, The Staycationers

Celine Bossart’s boutique industry blog, The Staycationers, began three years ago after a friend suggested that a travel article she wrote geared to millennials could be something more than a one-shot piece. The Staycationers focuses on promoting boutique hotel travel by sharing with readers what’s cool (or has the potential to become cool) about a hotel and encouraging them to try a visit themselves to see what all the fuss is about. They also love to offer inspiration with tips on how to ‘staycation’ at home by re-creating amazing hotel experiences for yourself.

“We don’t want to be elitist, but we are sticking to our millennial identity,” Celine says about The Staycationers. She encourages the boutique industry to not overlook marketing to your future client or you’ll end up missing the mark with an entire generation of travelers. Celine believes that in order to include the millennial generation in your demographic, boutique hotels must stay true to the ideals of hospitality and the aesthetics of the bar. And not just the bar inside the hotel, but also the mini-bar inside of guest rooms.

“The presentation of the mini-bar says a lot about your attention to detail,” Celine believes. “The whole essence of a boutique hotel is to make people feel like they’re at home.” Offering more than the usual bottles of liquor or beer in a mini-bar refrigerator will make your hotel stand out above the rest. Celine shared one of her most memorable experiences where a hotel mini-bar uniquely featured a locally-inspired specialty cocktail recipe and all the ingredients available for her to whip up her own drink and kick back in the comfort of her very own room. Now, that sounds like an experience that few boutique travelers would ever forget!

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Watch the full spotlight session below!

Boutique Tech Update

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Summary of the panel discussion at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Cameron Urban, Founder & CEO, Roxy
Oleg Kaganovich, CEO, Wyndow
Carrie Ell, Advisor, Voyat

Tech representatives Cameron Urban (CEO, Roxy), Oleg Kaganovich (CEO, Wyndow), and Carrie Ell (Advisor, Voyat) sat down for an enlightening panel discussion on the future of technology in the boutique industry. They shared insights into what their companies are seeing as new trends for hospitality and how hotels seem to be slow to respond to what the consumer wants when they are staying away from home.

Cameron shared that Roxy is creating a voice-activated in-room concierge service to offer to hotels. This technology means getting rid of the phone, alarm clock, etc. and putting them all into one device. “Our goals are increasing communication, guest experience, and making staff service successful.”

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All three panelists agreed that using technology to guide the consumer to book after visiting a hotel’s website is key to competing in the industry. “What more can we be doing once we get the guest on the website? That’s the missing link.” Carrie remarked. “It’s a journey you want to take them on. You’re curating an experience.” She also believes that start-up companies are where the boutique industry should be looking for innovative ideas in new booking technology. “Decide what your business needs and find the vendors that are offering that, and do it every year,” she suggests.

Olag advises that businesses use technology to learn more about their customers and what they want to experience when they stay at your hotel. “Artificial Intelligence and voice technology are going to become a big thing.” he believes. “But, don’t accept a technology just to say ‘we’re high-tech’.” It has to be in alignment with your target customer’s needs. The speed at which technology is adapted is faster than what hotels are doing to adapt, therefore, Cameron suggests pushing GM's and decision makers to take those bets on new technology to stay ahead of the consumer's desires and to compete with the big hotels for their business.

Boutique Social Clubs

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Sue Walter, ex-CEO, The Hospital Club

Sue Walter’s specialty is taking birds with broken wings and making them fly. It’s what she likes to do...and what she did in 2003 when she joined co-founders Paul G. Allen and Dave Stewart in opening The Hospital Club. The H Club’s location was once a dilapidated, closed hospital, but now is home to one of the most exclusive private clubs in London. “For a short time after opening, they actually had a few people show up looking for medical services,” Sue laughed.

The H Club offers members in creative industries a community to collaborate, work, connect, and be mentored. Sue describes it as “A community of like-minded people in a space that is specifically created for their needs.” And out of that community came a boutique hotel. “The blurring of lines between the hospitality spaces comes from the hospitality industry trying to understand our clients,” Sue says, “How they live, work, rest, and have leisure time.”

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Making a list of things they didn’t like about hotels was the starting point of what to leave out when they decided to expand to the hotel industry. The smaller, personal gestures like hand-written notes in the rooms and homemade cookies set out for guests made the list of things to keep. Sue reminds us of Maya Angelou’s words, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

With their next location set for Los Angeles, The H Club LA members can look forward to the same type of community that London offers. There will be spaces where you can work, collaborate, and entertain, but there will be something recognizable to Angelenos. “The building is designed to showcase the artwork of the community. The music is local musicians. Talks are from influencers in the community.” Sue describes. “We don’t tell our customers what they want, they tell us.”

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Boutique Pride

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Summary of the keynote at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Bill Walshe, CEO Viceroy Group

 As the self-described Chief Pride Officer of Viceroy Group, Bill Walshe inspired and captivated the Stay Boutique audience with his charisma, wit, and passion for instilling a sense of pride in all who desire to make their mark in the boutique hotel industry. After many years in the hospitality industry, Bill realized that having the title of ‘CEO’ doesn’t really mean much if you don’t have real pride in what you’re doing. A title is about status, while pride is about one’s purpose.

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Bill reminded everyone that, “We are hosts first and always.” When we take pride in our product it will lead us to our purpose. His coined term, Prideology, describes a pride ideology whereby we exhibit pride through purpose rather than profit. That’s what differentiates the boutique industry from the big guy hotels. “Business ideology has to be about purpose,” Bill says, “and Prideology is the definition of the Viceroy Hotel Group.” Those in the boutique hotel industry should not imagine that the surroundings will wow our customers, it’s service that wows them.

Not only is pride a personal commitment to serve your guests, but it is also the driving force that brings them back to stay again and again. They become an advocate for your brand and want to tell others about your hotel; communicating their pride in associating with your brand. In the boutique hotel business, it’s important to remember that pride is an attitude which separates excellence from mediocrity. “Fine is vulgar!” Bill says. “Proud people will not accept fine. Join me on the campaign to ban the F-word (fine)!”

Boutique Female-Empowerment

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Edie Rodriguez, Brand Chairman, Americas, Pontant

Edie Rodriguez, the former CEO of Crystal Cruises (and current Brand Chairman at Pontant), believes that all businesses are in perpetual evolution and must “grow til you go,” as she puts it. “Brands in any genre either grow or die.” In four short years under Edie’s leadership, Crystal Cruises launched yacht-expedition experiences, a river cruise division, and a luxury charter airline called Crystal Sky.

“Cruise ships are a floating boutique hotel,” Edie says, “with cultural art exhibits, curation of alcohol, food experiences, and more; just in a floating landscape.” Today’s ships paint across the landscape from family experiences to luxury cruises, like the newly announced Ritz-Carlton ship. “Luxury yacht expedition has become the new experience for boutique,” she tells us. With space for only 60 to 115 guests, the service on a luxury yacht is more individualized and the competition for business is growing among cruise lines. “Competition is not good, it’s great.” Edie believes. “It makes us all work that much harder.”

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As a woman CEO, Edie also acknowledges the competition for high-level jobs in the travel industry. “You have to be willing to work harder and smarter.” While Edie believes it is still a ‘man’s world’, she also knows that there are men in the industry who really do want to work with women, and they hire solely based on talent. Her advice on staffing is, “hire for the personality and train for the skill. I would rather have the loyalty because the other can be trained. You need a great team.”

When asked about how she balances work and personal life with such a high-level career, Edie says, “There is no balance, it’s a matter of priorities. Stick with your guidelines you set for work and personal life. Know yourself and where you are in life.” Loving what you’re doing is also key for any woman that wants to have a career and family. “If you’re not happy, don’t do it,” Edie recommends.

After working in the travel industry at high-level positions for decades, Edie was asked what her idea of true luxury is, “Getting to sleep in my own bed and not have to be up at a certain time...and have that cup of coffee in the morning.” That sounds like every working woman’s perfect start to a day!

Boutique Coffee

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Colby Barr, Co-Founder, Verve Coffee Roasters


With a vision of seed-to-cup, farm-to-table as the future of the consumer coffee experience, Verve Coffee co-founder Colby Barr set out to build the best coffee in the world. Maybe it was from his experiences growing up in a family that farmed pears and grapes in California, but Colby seemed to have the right instincts to know how to develop business relationships, find the best products, and collaborate with those who share the same vision. “There is an emotional thread to it all,” he says, “but it’s really about how to get the best coffee.”

Verve creates a sense of community within its business with the intention to seek out those who they want to have an audience with. He recommends an ‘S.P.A. treatment’ approach; Service, Product, and Atmosphere. “Practicing hospitality is a core that our company is built on, but design is an important part of our spaces too. Our stores feel more residential than commercial.” Colby says.

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He believes that the conversion of high-end boutique and coffee is what people want and now is a great opportunity for boutique hotels to figure out how to implement it into their offered experience. “No one wants to go to a great restaurant and the coffee sucks.” Colby laughs. “It’s not about being fancy, it’s just the expectation.”

Verve’s collaborating with partners of like-minded businesses includes doing a cafe on the Facebook campus as an extension of them wanting to elevate their coffee experience. “We’re growing, and we have ambitions.” Colby shared. “Staying founder-run and founder-controlled is how we plan to keep our mission intact and bring our team along with us.” With nine stores currently open and a second shop opening in Japan soon, Verve Coffee is well on it’s way to becoming the best coffee available in households and boutique hotels around the world.

Asia’s Favorite Boutique Hotel Brand

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Tim Alpe, COO of Ovolo Hotels

The owner-operated, family-owned Ovolo Hotels has grown into nine unique boutique hotels throughout Hong Kong and Australia since it started in 2002. “We are about effortless living.” COO Tim Alpe says. “Boutique is personalization and we focus on the things that used to be pet peeves for our customers.”

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With an eye on music, arts, and entrepreneurship, Ovolo Hotels offers an all-inclusive solution when you stay with them. The mini-bar, wifi, laundry, and happy hour are all free to guests. “F&B attention to detail has become front and center to boutique hotels.” Tim believes. “Everyone in Australia is a foodie, so the expectations are high.” In Hong Kong, their guests focus on technology amenities, so Ovolo put Amazon Alexa in their hotels. They also like to do things that people didn’t expect or even know they wanted, like launching a radio station (Radio Ovolo) on Spotify.

Tim advises others in the boutique hotel industry that empowering staff is a huge necessity. “Job satisfaction is necessary to hire staff that will give the service you need.” There are no strict uniform policies in Ovolo Hotels and with an almost semi-casual form of dressing, Tim believes it allows his staff to feel more comfortable while doing their job. He also highly recommends having an experienced curator on staff. “At Ovolo, we hold ourselves to the challenge of personalizing each customer’s stay.” Even if that means mailing back a little girl’s teddy bear that was mistakenly left behind... of course, with a few pictures included of him relaxing by the pool while he waited for his flight home.

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Absolut’s Journey to the Boutique World

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Jonas Tahlin, CEO, Absolut Elyx

What better way to discuss Absolut’s new boutique lifestyle-inspired vodka, Elyx, than over a couple of martinis? Freelance Spirits and Travel Journalist, Celine Bossart did just that when she interviewed Jonas Tahlin, CEO of Absolut, about their new luxury brand vodka and how James Bond had it all wrong.

“The colder the martini, the better,” Jonas advised, “so you want it stirred, not shaken.” However, he did acknowledge, “But the martini shakers are so fun!” Jonas’ passion for vodka was evident in every word he spoke about Absolut’s luxury version, Elyx. With vodka making a resurgence, Jonas saw that people like it to have a flavor so that it can be enjoyed not only as a mixer but also as a sipping cocktail. This is what the leading-edge bartender appreciates about a brand like Elyx.

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As the innovator behind the new liquor, Jonas shared that his inspiration came from a desire to create something unique that could be offered as a luxury experience for consumers in collaboration with the hospitality industry. Celine and Jonas agreed that for boutique hotels they would both love to see the mini-bar evolve into a full bar so that consumers can replicate the drink-mixing experience in the comfort of their hotel room, just like they would do at home.

“What you drink your vodka out of can also give a whole lifestyle experience,” Jonas adds. Absolut Elyx has taken this a step further by re-branding to create a whole lifestyle collaboration with barware, wallpaper, home accessories, and more. Visit to learn more and join in the experience of Elyx.


A True Boutique Fashion Story

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Summary of the interview at the 2017 Stay Boutique Leadership Conference with
Hannah Payne, Founder, Luba


Luba means ‘love’, and that is what’s at the core of Hannah Payne’s ready-to-wear women’s clothing label based in her home state of Colorado. Luba offers high-end, quality-made garments made with fabrics sourced from Korea, France, and Italy. “We create unique things that no one else can,” Hannah states. Just like boutique hotels, smaller companies like Luba can offer things that larger companies cannot. Working with a smaller fashion brand like Luba allows boutique hotels to create unique pieces that can be only sold in their location.


Luba knows the importance of staying true to who you are. Hannah’s business plan has never swayed from her focus on women’s silhouettes and honoring strong women like her grandmother, whom the company is named after. With a focus on giving back to community women’s shelters through their Love Foundation, Luba collaborates with boutique hotels to showcase their fashions at special events, with part of the profits being donated to local shelters. 

By offering women unique fashions that can’t be found in every large department stores, Luba has created their own version of living the boutique lifestyle. They’ve even expressed an interest in collaborating on hotel uniforms for the boutique industry. Check out to see just how special this fashion company full of creativity, purpose, and love is.

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