By Regina Connell.
There was a time, not so terribly long ago, when there was really no such thing as a “boutique” hotel. There were big chain hotels (Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott), luxury hotels (the Ritz, the Four Seasons), and there were motels. And there were others: bed and breakfasts, pensiones, and ryokans. Oh, and since we’re talking Japan: there were love hotels. There was no AirBnB, no VRBO.
Boutique hotels really got their start in the late 70s in London, courtesy of Anouska Hempel and Blakes. They were small (under 50 rooms), idiosyncratically decorated, with service that promised to be more intimate, more personal, and restaurant food that was actually edible.
The fashion and media crowds gravitated to this kind of thing. And it was then that things got out of hand.
People like ex-Studio 54 entrepreneur Ian Schrager got into the scene and in the mid-80s created hotels like the Paramount—small on space, but huge on the lobby scene. After Schrager, there were people like Chip Conley of the Joie de Vivre chain (and, ironically now working for AirBnB), the Kimpton chain, the Firmdale Group (Kit Kemp), and the late Alex Calderwood, founder of the Ace Hotels group. The big chains jumped into the fray, most notably the W chain, part of the Starwood group that also owned the Sheraton. And it continues: Andaz by Hyatt, Aloft hotels (also part of Starwood). There are plenty of small ones, too.
They were cool in the 1990s, when you wanted a break for those bleak, beige hotel chains.
But 25 years into the trend, I’m really over boutique hotels, and quite frankly the “luxury” ones are the worst of the bunch. They’ve become too self-consciously quirky, clever, and idiosyncratic with their decorator touches in their rooms and lobbies. They place so much emphasis on their own great scene/restaurants/spa/services/shopping/in-room app that they almost make you forget what city you’re in. They try so hard, they’re so needy, and are so intrusive. They utterly exhaust me. Oh, and the rooms are so often tiny: ridiculously so. Particularly since you’re paying $500/night for the privilege.
This isn’t cool or luxurious. This is more like a way overpriced Disneyland. And, irony of ironies, they’re not even as good as Disneyland. At least Disney does something better than these hotels do: they put a lot of effort into service, even if you kind of cringe at it. The boutiques? Not so much…
For all the rest and more on our version of the new luxury, wander on over to AltLuxe.
The New Luxury: altluxe.net