About two dozen industry executives, architects, designers, developers, owners, and researchers met in October 2011 for the Hospitality Design Roundtable at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Produced by the Center for Hospitality Research, the roundtable examined the current status of boutique hotels, including what customers want in a boutique property, how they react to boutique hotels, and even how to define a boutique hotel. 

Roundtable Chair Richard Penner, a professor at the School of Hotel Administration, noted that boutique hotels are becoming more common since the opening of Morgans in 1984, generally considered the first boutique hotel.

"Many of the participants agreed that the term 'boutique' implies hotels that have more to do with small size and personal attention—that they are more about the guest experience than about design,” Penner says.

However, some participants thought that boutique was not more than a marketing hook that has lost its cachet.  

Participants observed that the many boutique brands may have caused a brand blur, but customers often focus more on a particular hotel's features rather than its brand. They also noted that the 25–40-year-old segment remains a vital one for boutique properties, while baby boomers are not really the market for an experience-driven hotel.  

In one session, Cornell senior lecturer Stephani Robson presented a brief summary of J.D. Power and Associates’ guest satisfaction data for design-centric hotel brands, which found that guests believe that design-centric brands are less safe than more traditional hotels and that employees at design-centric hotels are less courteous or skilled in their work. 

In a session on boutique hotels and meetings, Cornell senior lecturer Bill Carroll introduced the question of how boutique hotels, given their intimate and personalized approach, might capitalize on this market without becoming a generic business-oriented property.

Participants offered ideas that seemed to fit the boutique hotel concept, such as clusters of small meeting spaces organized around an interactive social lounge, perhaps including a gourmet kitchen for personalized breakout snacks or meals prepared in the open by a hotel chef. These and other ideas blur the lines between function space and other public areas; they may need the support of technology to allow both the meeting spaces and the social space to be equally productive. Participants noted that boutique hotels could look toward such meeting innovations as the Cisco TelePresence suite or meeting space with document cameras in the ceiling to facilitate real time brainstorming.

Click here to view the full program and photos of the event.

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