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What Are Boutique Hotels?

They're small, artsy, & young in spirit. Are boutique hotels your style?

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Every hotel of the not-huge variety seems to call itself a boutique hotel. But what does it this term actually mean?

Unlike the open-to-interpretation meaning of luxury hotel, the definition of boutique hotel is quite clear. Here are some elements that distinguish a boutique hotel.

A Boutique Hotel Is Intimate in Size

Celebrities love Hotel Byblos in Saint Tropez, France.
Chic boutique ©Hotel Byblos on the French Riviera.

First and foremost, a boutique hotel is small. Most hospitality pros agree that for a property to be considered a boutique hotel, it should not be much bigger than 100 rooms. (But not too small: if it doesn't have at least 10 rooms, it's not a boutique hotel but a B&B or inn.)

A boutique hotel's intimate size produces its characteristic personal feeling and heady ambiance. Some luxury travelers enjoy the compact size and enveloping atmosphere of a boutique hotel. Others prefer feeling like observers in a big, busy grand hotel.

Example of a boutique hotel with a strong personality:

  • The celeb-studded, 91-room Hotel Byblos in St. Tropez on the French Riviera
  • A stylishly updated former convent with only 20 rooms, the Amalfi coastline-hugging Monastero Santa Rosa

A Boutique Hotel Is an Independent Hotel (or Feels Like One)

Morningside, one of 11 rooms at ©The Point Resort.

A boutique hotel strives to be one-of-a-kind. It has an independent attitude.

It may be independently owned. And/or it may be a member of a luxury hotel association. Example:

Or It's the Boutique Brand of a Bigger Hotel Label

MGallery Hotel Burdigala, a boutique design hotel in the city of Bordeaux, France.
Boutique bed at ©MGallery Hotel Burdigala in Bordeaux, France.

Some boutique hotels wear the boutique label of a larger hotel brand. Example:

Or It's the Boutique Wing of a Big Hotel

Staff welcome at Nobu Hote Caesars Palace. ©Karen Tina Harrison

A definite boutique hotel trend: sometimes it's a wing of a larger hotel. The boutique section feels more or less like a separate hotel. It as its own reception, lobby, and decor -- not to mention a more exclusive identity and better service. Example:

A Boutique Hotel Has a Bull's-Eye Urban Setting

Hyatt 48 Lex Hotel in New York City.
NYC boutique hotel perch: ©Hyatt 48 Lex.

Boutique hotels tend to be in the city, where their buzzy ambiance feels just right. Often, the small size of an urban boutique hotel affords it a chi-chi, dead-center location in the heart of town. Examples:

  • Hyatt 48 Lex beside Grand Central in midtown Manhattan, NYC
  • Cape Grace Hotel perched on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa

A Boutique Hotel Has a Contemporary Vibe & Spirited Guests to Match

Condesa DF, a hip boutqiue hotel in Mexico City.
Boutique Mexique: ©Condesa DF Hotel in Mexico City.

A boutique hotel is not generic, blah, or bland. It strives to be one-of-a-kind, and has an independent attitude. Its clientele is individualistic, too.

If a hotel has cookie-cutter décor and/or is filled with traveling suits, it fails the Luxury Travel boutique hotel test. Examples of no-doubt-about-it boutique hotels:

  • Thompson Hotel Toronto, a cutting-edge hotel in a forward-looking city, with a handsome, happening crowd
  • Mexico City's lively Condesa DF, whose rooftop lounge is one of the hippest hangouts in town
  • Southern California's deluxe Rancho Valencia, which encourages guests to exercise by day...and socialize by night

A Boutique Hotel Has Modern or Designer Decor with a Quirky Touch

W St. Petersburg Hotel in Russia is stylish and modern.
Barroom with a view: ©W St. Petersburg Hotel in Russia.

Typically, a boutique hotel's design is in keeping with its of-the-moment point of view.

Décor in a boutique hotel runs toward sleek materials and stark palettes with bold color splashes. (Fusty furnishings like chintz, brocade, tassels and swags are not boutique-hotel hallmarks.) Chic boutique examples:

  • W St. Petersburg Hotel in Russia, whose fantasy décor resembles a space-age disco
  • Vila Joya in the Algarve in Portugal, with Buddhist art and Asian motifs in its 18 all-different rooms

Often, a boutique hotel conveys a strong sense of place. with a look that reflects the location's heritage. Example:

  • Rooms at El Monte Sagrado in Taos, New Mexico flaunt real, collector-quality Navajo rugs
  • Accommodations at Esencia in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, combine all-white minimalism with bright Mayan weavings and rugs.

A Boutique Hotel Has Ultra-Personal Service

Butler to the rescue at ©Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton Reserve in Thailand.

A small hotel means better service. And a good boutique hotel makes exceptional personal service its mission. Examples:

A Boutique Hotel Is Eccentric, with a Sense of Humor

Soap concierge at Viceroy Riviera Maya. ©Karen Tina Harrison.

Boutique hotels express their singularity in light-hearted, mildly rebellious room details and guest programs.

A boutique hotel can surprise and delight guests with winsome touches: a tiger-shaped faux-fur rug before the fireplace, a vibration-platform machine in the gym, your own (and not very corporate) temporary business cards. Example:

  • Viceroy Riviera Maya in Mexico, whose mock-serious "soap butler" slices guests a fat bar in fragrances like margarita or chocolate

A Boutique Hotel Focuses on F&B (Food & Beverage)

Photo of Taj Campton Place Hotel in San Francisco.
In good taste: ©Taj Campton Place Hotel, San Francisco.

A boutique hotel can usually be depended upon to feature outstanding restaurants and bars that draw a city-wide crowd.

Often, the hotel boasts a celebrity-chef eatery in its lobby. And just as frequently, it offers a stylish bar or lounge with a delectable modern cocktail menu. Examples:

  • Taj Campton Place San Francisco, with a Bay area-beloved two-Michelin-star restaurant in-house, Campton Place
  • Ace Hotel Portland, with the acclaimed Clyde Common gastropub and Stumptown Coffee java joint

Boutique...c'est chic.

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