They restored Art Deco mansions. Bayside cottages. Former bank buildings. Historic, chic, funky, and sleek are often used to describe distinctive boutique hotel properties. Planners looking for a place to hold a smaller-scale meeting, a VIP retreat or an incentive trip turn to boutique hotels for their intimacy, customer service, memorable locations, design, or amenities.
By definition, a boutique hotel has 120 rooms or less, some upscale food and beverage amenities and client services, and some unique design features, says Frances Kiradjian, founder and chair of the Boutique and Lifestyle Lodging Association. The boutique hotel “movement” began in the 1980s as small hotels outside the multinational chains opened in cities like New York and Los Angeles. The number of boutique properties has continued to grow in recent years, and several large hotel corporations now operate their lifestyle brands.BLLA works to create an industry definition of a boutique or lifestyle property and unite the largely independent properties. Kiradjian says that since most boutique hotels are not part of a union, planners find greater flexibility when planning an event at one. “It’s a little bit easier to maneuver a meeting and less costly,” she says. “You’ll be able to connect with all of the hotel’s executives. They are more flexible, and they don’t necessarily have a guidebook. It’s easier for the meeting planner and can be a little more creative.”
The Morgans Hotel Group, one of the pioneers in the boutique and lifestyle hotel field, touts flexible and creative meeting options at its properties as a refreshing change from “cookie-cutter” chains. Kate Harth, senior vice president of sales and revenue management at Morgans Hotel Group, says boutique hotels provide planners with meeting space that “is more indicative of an exciting living room than an empty ballroom.” They also can give attendees a level of service and attention that makes them feel unique and valued, Harth adds.
Petite Napa Retreat: Inn on Randolph
Customer service is Karen Lynch’s key focus. The owner of the Inn on Randolph, a 10-room bed and breakfast luxury inn in Napa, Lynch aims to create a tailored meeting for every different planner who comes through her door. “We base [the meeting] on the customer,” she says. “We don’t have a standard, ‘This is our package, this time to this time.’ We customize to everything that our particular guest needs,” she adds.
The Inn on Randolph has two rooms and two garden spaces that can function as meeting spaces. One of the rooms has 600 square feet of space, and the other has 400 square feet, and both can accommodate up to 20. The outdoor areas are approximately 950 square feet and can be used for receptions for up to 50.
For Lynch, the easy part is setting up the cozy meeting spaces and making guests feel at home. Helping guests discover the overall Napa experience takes a little more work. “There are many options when the meeting is done,” says Lynch. “Bike tours, hot-air balloons, winery tours, a cooking class for teambuilding, dinner reservations. We have Napa Valley in our front yard.”
Drew Neiman, the owner of Vanguard Wines, recently hosted a seven-person meeting retreat at the Inn on Randolph. “Last year, we stayed at a different hotel, and the meeting was more sterile. [The Inn on Randolph] was a warmer atmosphere and could accommodate our group,” says Neiman. Lynch, who set up the meeting spaces and served as a personal concierge, offered Neiman’s group one flat rate.
“All of the amenities we could have ever wanted were in the meeting rooms,” Neiman says. “Normally, I wouldn’t choose a bed-and-breakfast, but this wasn’t your typical bed-and-breakfast—not a doily in sight.”
South Beach Oasis: The Betsy Hotel
While the holistic experience of the destination is a hallmark of boutique hotels, these properties also focus on creating meaningful experiences on-site. Take the arts-and-literature oasis in Miami, The Betsy Hotel, for example.
“Although the oceanfront on Ocean Drive is the epicenter of the party scene, The Besty is the antithesis of it,” says Ivan Tamayo, the hotel’s sales director. Among its other services, The Betsy provides guests complimentary rooftop yoga, access to a quiet writer’s room, use of an iPad or Mac computer in the space, a 15-book library in every guest room, and a nightly poem on the pillow instead of a chocolate or flower.
The 61-room hotel has a total of 1,750 square feet of indoor meeting space, and planners can secure as few as five rooms for groups or book all 61. “Meeting attendees have the unusual ability to escape their meeting at the hotel,” Tamayo says. “The Betsy has a beautiful meeting space separate from the hotel.” It’s across the street in an art-filled annex.
In the separate venue, planners can choose from 500-sq.-ft. or 150-sq.-ft. meeting rooms and use B Bar, the annex’s 1,100-sq.-ft “speakeasy” with 26 light boxes and digital projection equipment. Planners can also use the 3,750 sq. ft in the main hotel. Open-air rooftop deck, 2,000-sq.-ft. Restaurant BLT, 1,100-sq.-ft. Lobby bar or 300-sq.-ft. Pool deck for events.
Capital of the New South: The Ellis Hotel
Though boutique hotels focus on providing guests with a comfortable escape, they pay attention to 21st-century business needs. The Ellis Hotel in Atlanta, formerly the notable Winecoff Hotel, recently underwent a $28 million renovation to preserve the integrity of the historic building while transforming it into a 127-room luxury boutique hotel.
The Ellis, one of Atlanta’s top-rated business hotels, provided high-speed Internet and equipped its new meeting spaces with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment. The Ellis has more than 1,500 square feet of functional meeting space, accommodating up to 100 in the 1,475 sq. ft. Stoddard room. Planners can host intimate functions in the 270-sq.-ft, Carnegie room that has an adjoining balcony with a view of Atlanta’s Peachtree Street.
Though situated in the concrete metropolis of Atlanta, The Ellis sources many ingredients for its farm-to-table focused Terrace Bistro from area farmers and has several green initiatives to maintain its national Green Seal.
Director of Sales and Marketing Tracy Lyon-Mercado says what brings planners and guests back to The Ellis is its “take time to sip the sweet tea” atmosphere. Though a hotel that caters to business travelers, The Ellis gives guests an escape from fast-paced city living with its antebellum charm and Southern hospitality, says Lyon-Mercado.
She says little details like the women-only floor (with hair straighteners and a “kiss cam” to say goodnight to sweethearts and families in every room) and nightly wine tastings at the Terrace Bistro are extras that support The Ellis’s motto: “Let us surprise you.”
Inspired Design: Saguaro Scottsdale
A short walk from Old Town Scottsdale, Ariz., the Saguaro Scottsdale hotel has embraced and incorporated the culture and color of the region into the “contextual resort.” Instead of copying the design and decor of another hotel in a different part of the country, the architects of the Saguaro used inspiration from the natural desert lighting and Hispanic influence in the area. The property has bold reds and bright lavenders—pops of color that complements the sleek design of the renovated ’60s motel, giving it a retro-pop feel.
The hotel, nine miles from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, has 195 guest rooms with handmade furniture imported from Mexico. The Hispanic influence extends to Saguaro’s Distrito restaurant, named for the source of its inspiration, the food of Mexico City (also known as the Distrito Federal). The restaurant’s chef, James Beard Award-winner Jose Garces, put a gourmet take on Mexican street food featuring menu items like a crab and cactus salsa and veal tongue with a chile glaze.
The Saguaro has more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 3,000-sq.-ft. Anchusa meeting room. For outdoor events, the Saguaro offers the Picante Pool space, with 13,000 square feet that can accommodate up to 600 guests for a reception or 300 for an al fresco banquet. Planners can use the Distrito’s 540 square feet of private dining space or 525 sq. ft. Terrace for catered meals serving 40 or receptions for up to 85.
Room With a View: Langham Place, Fifth Avenue
New York City housed dozens of boutique hotels and was one of the vanguards of the movement more than three decades ago. For planners wanting to go all out in the middle of Manhattan, the high-rise luxury boutique hotel Langham Place, Fifth Avenue (formerly The Setai Fifth Avenue) is two blocks from the Empire State Building, and its 157 rooms and 57 suites provide guests with views of the Manhattan cityscape.
What Langham Place has that most other boutique New York City hotels need is space. The guest rooms have between 420 and 930 square feet of space, and the suites have between 775 and 1,900. The entire fourth floor is dedicated to the spa, and the second floor houses the Michelin Star-holding Ai Fiori restaurant.