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Business Development, Community Development, Economic Development, Government, Infrastructure

My case for bringing boutique hotels to older downtowns


Traditional hotels in the downtowns of smaller communities are not always well suited for each other.  The need to offset operating revenues with room nights overshadows the economics of the smaller communities.

Enter the “boutique hotel.”

A typical boutique hotel room

While the definition varies, in most cases the boutique hotel involves a limited size, a focus on creative and innovative interior design, a high level of service, and a promise of a unique guest experience.  In essence, boutique hotels focus on where the lodging industry started, as places where hospitality was highly prized and personalized.  Recently the addition of modern amenities, business required technology and services are part of the mix.

So what factors are present in older, traditional downtowns that can make a boutique hotel work?

There are several considerations.

Designed around the concept of providing a community’s goods and services within a few blocks was the essence of downtown America.  Boutique hotels and their guests compliment those designs.  When travelling, the road warrior seeks comfort, ease of access to services and the amenities that makes life on the road bearable.  Boutique hotels offer the opportunity to park the car, check in and casually walk to shops and restaurants, thus breaking up the tedium of the freeway oriented, glass and “cookie cutter” standard hotel.

Traditionally, downtowns from roughly 1870 through 1900 were built out around a central square, with a courthouse, buildings with facades that are more ornate and inviting public spaces.  Boutique hotels have the ability to capitalize on these attributes and offer a lodging experience that could be unique and personal.  Frequently situated in buildings with history, décor and all of the modern amenities, they have the ability to offer a “high touch, high feel” experience in an environment that makes business travels more of a pleasure than just lodging.

From an economic frame of reference, boutique hotels, located in downtowns also offer the opportunity for communities to capitalize on their core.  Out of town guest purchases, bring fresh revenue to the shops, services, and restaurants located in the heart of small communities.  Out of town guests, create jobs that diversify a community’s economic base and, to be blunt, generate cash flow for business and local government.  Revenue derived from guest expenditures deliver needed tax dollars but also provide downtown businesses with the capital resources to remain competitive.  Small businesses are the heart and soul of downtowns.  They bring the flavor and ambiance of a community to travelers for the initial stay and increase the likelihood of a return visit.

As a former road warrior, I have had the opportunity to travel frequently.  At one point in my career, I commuted between Los Angeles and Boston once per week for over six months.  I knew pilots and flight attendants on a first name basis.  Hotel front desks knew the services that I needed and made sure they were present.  Of my travels and lodging experiences, the best were in smaller properties where staffing and service made my stays a pleasure.  For the most part, they were the “boutique hotel” and they were, and still are, worth the trip.

Is the boutique hotel concept feasible for every community?  That is best be determined by a thoughtful and careful study.  It is a concept to be considered through an analysis the available buildings, economics, and the market.  Where the concept is successful, a sense of grace and charm is present along with job generation and a diversified economic base.

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