Sincerely, BLLA

Boutique Hotels 9th Annual BLLA 2021 Event: The Awakening

Part 1 in a series of 8 overviews The Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) online event hit the ground running early on October 25th, 2...

Part 1 in a series of 8 overviews

The Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) online event hit the ground running early on October 25th, 2021. With more than 130 speakers and 56 sessions, the promise is that this year’s theme “The Awakening” will shake off the complacency, fear, and hesitancy that’s become chaotic for many hoteliers during the pandemic.

The dynamic mother-daughter duo behind BLLA, Frances Kiradjian, alongside Ariela Kiradjian kicked off the event. Ariela reflected on the BLLA mission: “To make the simple and boring in this industry, interesting. We progress boutique hospitality into the future.”

Covid changed everything. But hoteliers have created boutique hotels with purpose, community, and common values with their guests in mind. Big chains can never replicate this.

First up, this Italian boutique hotel is a jewel, tucked away in Lake Como that oozes these values…

Living Grand: Boutique Hotel with Style

Valentina De Santis, CEO at the historic (built-in 1910) Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Lake Como, Italy shared some of her secrets with the stunning lake as her backdrop. Valentina’s hospitality shines as she relates her thoughts about their guests:

“It’s a personal experience. We’re opening the doors of our home and hearts. Italians are warm and hospitable. It’s in our DNA to share food and culture.”

Grand Hotel Tremezzo

Here are some tips Valentina shared:

  • Historic properties must include modern touches: For example, the Grand Hotel features a manmade sandy beach for play. 
  • Make your hotel full of life by playing with colors and fascinations that grab the eye in every corner
  • Be authentic: Every experience the guests enjoy at the Grand Hotel, from the locally sourced food, the beverages, from the pizza place to gourmet is 100% Italian
  • Create artisan experiences: Fragrance, shampoos, and creams made locally are available for guests to enjoy
  • Create havens for different kinds of guests: A separate pool for families to honeymooners so they’re happy at the same time
  • Use social media to update travelers and share genuine feelings and closeness rather than showcasing the product and facilities
  • Give a signature experience: Valentina says the guest’s stay isn’t complete without exploring the lake from the water

It’s true that not many boutique hotels have the Grand Hotel’s idyllic location. But you know that your style of boutique living is uniquely (and lovingly) yours.

So, let’s talk about gentrification…

Gentrification in Your Neighborhood can be Good for Business

Gentrification means that wealthier residents move into your neighborhood and change its character. Does that mean that the hotel’s “personality” will fade? You might be surprised to find that the heart of Valentina’s approach will also work for these neighborhoods. 

Two boutique hotel designers, Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet (Vice President at Determined by Design) and Nina Grondin (Partner & Co-Founder at Curioso) met for a BLLA “think-tank” chat.

Determined by Design

Nina commented: “Development and gentrification don’t mean you have to displace the existing residents. Build a coalition with the people who’ve been there for decades. It’s hard and it hurts but it’s worth it.”

Here are some ideas the ladies discussed that make your boutique hotel the local meeting place while keeping the guests happy:

  • Share your hotel’s unique story and give your community pride and ownership. Also, your travelers will appreciate knowing your story and what you stand for
  • Market staycations for locals
  • Keep community wealth by offering any vacant space to partner with a local yoga instructor or florist
  • Keep community wealth and social sustainability by partnering with a local coffee shop instead of bringing in Starbucks
  • Make your coffee shop, bar, or lounge a hybrid space. Host events and meetings and give the locals a place to go 

Sequoyah had this final thought: “Design with the future in mind.” In other words, planning is essential. Impulsive design changes can cost you extra if you’re not paying attention to your long-term community goals.

Awakening Creative Success at All Levels

If anyone knows about awakening creativity it’s American celebrity chef, restaurateur, author, and television personality Todd English. So, Frances Kiradjian, CEO of BLLA, was happy to enjoy a few minutes with him for the BLLA event.

Frances called Todd “the James Bond of food and beverage” which says it all! Todd owns multiple successful restaurants around the world. Also, a fresh version of food courts with an upscale twist — The Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza, New York is one example.

With all of this under his belt, his latest project is opening a 74 key, boutique hotel in Las Vegas to fill a gap in the community. Todd commented: “I’m developing the local market. For all the talent that comes to Vegas, we’re trying to create a place for them to go. It’s very much a food-driven hotel.”

Here are some tips Todd shared for your hotel:

  • Create a GOOD food and beverage program to drive the room rates up (50% or more should come from F & B)
  • Bring in live entertainment
  • Keep your food authentic
  • Take concepts and reinvent them. For example, Todd takes carrots and artistically gives them the visual appearance of ribs!

Are you seeing the theme develop? Here are some thoughts from Ariela Kiradjian:

“I think what everyone is noticing here is that the underlying theme of “the awakening” is community. Whether it’s gathering everyone online like BLLA for conferences and memberships … but also with the hotels, you’re building a community. How can you do better?”

About Doing Good: Health & Happiness with Boutique Hotels

Dr. Jason Wersland, Founder and Chief Wellness Officer at Therabody discussed destination spas with Jim Root, the general manager of Mii amo and Enchantment Group Director of Wellbeing. The Mii amo is known as a thought leader in the spa destination and wellbeing space.

Jim says: “It’s about individual choice. The separation between wellness and wellbeing. Yes, we’re in the hospitality business, but we don’t say that. We’re in the people business. That’s on both sides, our guests and our team.”

Mii amo

Here are some thoughts revealed during their think-tank session about boutique hotel spas:

  • Think about if your community and guests need a well-being program. Don’t try to create one and hope for the best
  • Understand your location’s sense of place and spirit to share your hotel’s story
  • Identify each guest as an individual, don’t try to assess them. On their spa journey, listen and help to co-create the guest
  • Teach and deepen a wellness practice or just be kind!
  • Don’t just “check the boxes” of pilates or yoga. Be relational, not transactional Wellbeing, wellness boutique hotels, unlike chain hotels, have the opportunity to be Intuitive and high-touch rather than high-tech
  • Find partners to build a wellbeing community (determine what your guests and community need first)

Although Mii amo has a lot of money to throw at their effort, they circle back to that question … what the community needs is the guiding star of their business.

Now that you’re relaxed, let’s talk about the boutique hotel — A home away from home (at work).

The Work from Home Trend that Gives Boutique Hotels Opportunities

Let’s talk about how boutique hotel memberships can work for you. Regina Connell, the founder of Collective Work chatted with Emmanuel Guisset, CEO and Co-Founder at Outsite. 

Emmanuel earned his stripes in business developing several startups which led him to his membership boutique concept — He’s proven the concept works and has a growing international portfolio of 30 nomadic locations (in 5 years!).

Regina asked Emmanuel what Outsite does: “We call our guests members. Our hotels are 5 to 30 rooms, 1 week to 3 month stays, with a kitchen, community manager, and workspace for remote work.”

Here are some thoughts from Emmanuel for hoteliers in a good location for this model:

  • Any membership program gives guests a sense of belonging
  • Guests can choose solitude or mingling with other guests — usually, guests mingle
  • Invest in co-working space and a group guest kitchen
  • Change your mindset with price for longer, flexible stays as this will make for better numbers overall
  • Build wrap-around services to support and build the community lifestyle, with an online community to gather and network when they’re not at your home-away-from-home favorite boutique hotel

Regina touted this as: “A movement that helps boutique hotels stay ahead of the trend. Work and hospitality are becoming integrated.”

Let’s Round-Up with Your Boutique Hotel Action Steps 

  • Learning how to outpace the big chains takes a lot of work, creativity, and intuition. Take an extra look at how your hotel is waking up from the pandemic.
  • Your unique boutique hotel awakening brings a land of opportunity, joy, and a lot of work (yes, that was worth repeating).
  • Whether it’s a tucked-away paradise, a nook in urban sprawl, a funky neighborhood hub, a zen experience, or a work-from-home membership, you know what you’re about…
  • Community and authenticity.
  • So, pick something that your community needs and ask yourself whether you’re delivering on that.
  • Then ask yourself, is your hotel’s story authentic?

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