Boutique Hotel. Just the words get the imagination going. Before I dog eared the pages of Herbert Ypma’s first Hip Hotels book I was fascinated by the realm of boutique hotel properties. “How cool would it be to be the general manager of the cool boutique hotel?” I often found asking myself as I flipped through the pages of his magnificent photos. Spending so much time to make a career out of the hotel industry, I was convinced that I just had to be associated with a boutique hotel someday.
That someday came true, if in 2004 I was invited to get the typical manager of the things was yet still is one of Palm Springs most hip boutique hotels. I left another huge opportunity just to be part of this excellent world. The art, the design, the vibe. I needed never really worked anywhere with a “vibe”. Annually later and that i knew, I knew what many within the hotel business do not…what exactly it is really like to be the gm of any hip, cool boutique hotel. It’s not for everyone and amazing for a lot of.
There exists a mini storm brewing in the boutique hotel world, one I don’t think most associated with this industry know about. With a lot more boutique hotel operators entering the playground, a lot more bad hiring decisions are being made. The right General Mangers work at the wrong hotels. Just like a square peg as well as a round hole, a few things just do not work. Who is to blame and what you can do?
The Boutique Hotel: First allow me to first inform you that I have got a narrow look at what really constitutes a boutique hotel. I do believe that the term “Boutique” when used to describe a hotel is usually misapplied. A PR Newswire will not be based on simply a hot design, as much would argue.
A boutique hotel should be a completely independent operation. The resort should not be a part of a collection which is more than say, 10 properties. Beyond this you receive into using a corporate hierarchical management style that is needed in operating a large company and maintaining brand consistency. Take W Hotels as an example. For me these are not boutique hotels. They appear such as a boutique hotel, even feel like one. Many boutique hotels would make an effort to be as great as a W. But a W Hotel is run and managed by a rzaufu corporation. The property level management makes only a few decisions in regards to what services are available and how the home is run. A boutique hotel has to be operated as near to the actual physical operation as is possible. W’s and so on are amazing, but in my view don’t fit the definition of a boutique hotel. Boutique hotels will also be constantly re-inventing themselves, ensuring that their fickle guest never lose interest and look to stay in the latest new, hip and funky property.
Travelers chose to stay in a boutique hotel due to the story, or even the experience. The knowledge is vital and must be unique and somewhat cutting edge. The overall demographics are individuals 20 to 50 years old, operate in more creative fields like advertising or entertainment and appreciate an increased degree of service. When Ian Schrager entered the marketplace with what many consider to become the initial boutique hotel, this demographic learned that they could use their travel budget have them a room in a cool, hip hotel rather than a generic mid-level branded property. As well as the boom started.
Boutique hotel guests enjoy experiences, unique architecture, cutting edge interior decorating and perhaps an urban location. The market is expanding and also the demographic model explained earlier is starting out bleed into others. You could very well locate a Fortune 500 CEO being at a boutique hotel. It is actually difficult to ignore the hype.
Luxury hotel operators are scrambling to avoid losing market share for the boutique world. Some hotels are in reality using the “brand” off their marketing and streamlining their operations so that their properties are authentically boutique. Consider the Kahala Mandarin Oriental for example. This famous luxury property recently took Mandarin Oriental away to make sure they could operate and compete within the new marketplace more independent hotels. They are simply “The Kahala” and are working hard to get authentically local and independent of the major brand identification. I believe others will follow.
For the sake of this publication, I am going to utilize the luxury hotel because the comparison for the boutique as most closely associate a boutique hotel with luxury travel. So what exactly is so different about as being a general manager with a luxury hotel versus a boutique hotel? Can it really be that different? The basic principles are identical. The overall manager is mainly responsible for the whole day to day operation, hiring decisions, marketing, budgets, forecasting, rate strategy, facility maintenance etc… The true secret both for varieties of properties is guest service and guest interaction. The guest in a top end luxury hotel expects to be able to interact with the resort general manager, as perform the guests at a boutique property. It is actually all high touch.
The real difference is the fact a boutique hotel general manager wears only a few more hats compared to luxury general manager. A boutique general manager may be preparing complex budget forecasting spreadsheets at 10am as well as at 10:30 am be clearing the pool towels from round the hotel’s salt water plunge. When was the last time you saw the typical manager in the Peninsula Beverly Hills with an arm packed with towels? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the general manager of the Peninsula would do this in a second, if they needed to. The overall manager of the boutique hotel Needs to, because there is nobody. Usually the one server working the restaurant is also probably responsible for caring for the pool, taking room service orders, delivering the orders and so on…. The overall manager of any boutique hotel is oftentimes also the HR director and breaks the top desk agents. When the gm is within California then your gm may find themselves breaking almost every position just to avoid getting sued and fined!
Take this example; you happen to be GM of a hot boutique property inside the desert. The temperature is pushing 118 degrees. Since occupancy during the summer season is very low, you encourage a lot of your team to adopt their vacations so you can get that vacation accrual off your books. Someone who takes you high on this is your chief engineer, one of two engineers to your entire five acre property. He goes home to the motherland, Germany for a week. Now because it’s hot does not mean that you simply don’t have customers. Some tourists appear to love the warmth, and so it was using this type of steamy day in August. Because the sun starts to set, your friends and relatives make their way from the pool for their bungalows. Dusk and 100 degrees, everyone turns on their aged air conditioners full blast so they can cool down. Your only other engineer has gone home for the day. It is at concerning this time the calls start to arrive. The ac units are freezing up. The previous units freeze up when they are excited full blast. Many blow the circuit breakers. So there you might be, within your office doing the forecast to your weekly corporate status report call when the front desk calls you in a panic, “the guests are flipping out” cries your brand-new front desk agent. You check out the calls and see you need your engineer back on property, but his pre-paid cell phone (you cant afford to cover a cell phone for him) is out of time -you cant reach him! So what do you do? You visit the rooms to see if you can fix them. Room by room you tackle the task of explaining in your sweaty and angry guests why they cant turn their ac on full which it should take at least a couple of hours for your ice built up around the coils to melt. Then you definitely start to look for your circuit breakers, which are scattered all around the 60 years old property. By the time you make it to the last room the guest who answers the door almost screams at the sight of the sweaty, dirty general manager holding an instrument box having a dazed look on his face. “Wasn’t this exactly the same guy who has been pouring us Mimosas in the pool today honey?” asks the guest as you begin your repairs. After the craziness is over you get a call on your cellular phone. Yes, it is actually your engineer returning your call. “You attempting to reach me boss?”. The following day, throughout your conference phone you pay attention to a speech about how general managers have to hang out with their guests as opposed to in their offices. Duh, you think while you make an effort to scrub the grit from beneath your fingernails.
The financial realities of any boutique hotel are unique. The appearance of 3 to 5 star service with a two star finances are the standard, and the gm’s get caught at the center. The boutique hotel just lacks your budget to staff just like a true luxury property and everyone needs to pull their weight. The gm who does not will never be there long and hate every second of their lives.
Along with the additional sweat and frustration for being a boutique hotel gm would be the rewards. For the best individual, they will likely find that the entrepreneurial management style required of them is very empowering. The gm can make a great deal of decisions on their own, decisions that in a larger corporate hotel would require an approval or worse….committee discussion! The reality that some towels must be acquired and possibly a drink or two be mixed and served is actually fun to them. The rewards of always being facing your guests are what most gm’s want anyway, but many are not really ready for this when they are tasked to help make which happen every day.