Industry stakeholders influential in the emergence of the concept of the “boutique hotel” were recently convened by Skift, a travel intelligence firm. A report of those discussions helps explain the origins of a concept that has transformed the hospitality industry.

Courtyard of The Dylan, Amsterdam

Courtyard of The Dylan, Amsterdam (Credit: Jerome Levine)

A bit of background

If you are under the age of 40, you were likely born before there was anything called a “boutique hotel.” Bill Kimpton (the now-deceased founder of the Kimpton Hotels chain) opened the very first boutique hotel, the Clarion Bedford Hotel, in San Francisco in 1981.

On the east coast, the first boutique hotel innovators were Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, who opened Morgans in New York City. Some say it was Steve Rubell who coined the term, boutique hotel. The east coast version of the boutique hotel was a bit more “cool,” “hip” and “edgy” than the west. At their inception, boutique hotels were largely bi-coastal.

Defining the term “boutique hotel”

The term “boutique” has more to do with a hotel’s philosophy and emphasis on catering to guests rather than its size, per se. Vibrant restaurants and bars are also essential elements of boutique properties.

Although diverse and one-of-a-kind, some of the common elements of boutique hotels include:

  • An integral relationship between the hotel and the surrounding community and culture,
  • A feeling of intimacy within the property,
  • An emphasis on high design, avant-garde creativity and individual character,
  • A more relaxed and casual (rather than stuffy) relationship between hospitality staff and guests, and
  • A focus on personal service, creating a unique and memorable guest experience that feels like an extension of “home.”

Chip Conley, founder of the boutique Joie de Vivre Hotels, noted that guests are more likely to fit a “psychographic” than demographic.

In-room amenity (Credit: Jerome Levine)

In-room amenity (Credit: Jerome Levine)

Impact on the industry

The concept of the boutique hotel has now become mainstream, with many large boutique brands (like the W Hotels and Ace Hotels) inspired by their forerunners. More broadly, travelers are better educated about boutique hotels and want and expect more “human” and authentic hotels.

The report concludes by stating that the “outsiders” have now become “insiders.” In fact, there are currently some 125 companies operating boutique hotels. Moreover, elements of boutique hotels are commonplace in mainstream ones.

Before boutique hotels, a hotel was meant to simply offer you a comfortable place to stay. After boutique hotels, a hotel was expected to offer you so much more: it became an experience, a change in the way you feel when you travel, and what you expect to have.”


The whole 60,000-word report by Deanna Ting on the Skift website: