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Outside the Box Boutique Hotel Ideas Win at BLLA 2021 Event

Part 3 in a series of 8 overviews Whether you're looking to invest in your first hotel, or expand, these presenters, all expert hoteliers, have ...

Part 3 in a series of 8 overviews

Whether you’re looking to invest in your first hotel, or expand, these presenters, all expert hoteliers, have loads of insights for you to draw on. 

And, if you need fabulous cost-effective marketing tricks, you’ll find them below.

This Boutique Hotel Owner Thinks Outside the Box

Tyler Morse has come a long way from bag-checking for Delta Airlines. Now the chairman and CEO at MCR, he has 125 hotels and about a dozen in the boutique space. Tyler spoke with Jonathan Falik, the CEO of JF Capital Advisors.

Tyler is unconventional… In one extraordinary development, MCR converted an Episcopalian cemetery into a hotel in New York.  

It features a fabulous front garden with a double-decker bus which doubles as a coffee shop and a bar in the evenings. It has an open top and gives a whole different perspective on life to perch high and overlook the garden.

Tyler reflects on the success of this venture: “People appreciate a unique and interesting product. If you were to go on Hotel Tonight right now, you could find 100 hotels for 100 bucks a night in New York City. And we’re getting $450. Which is a testament to having a unique and interesting product and people being willing to pay for that.”

The High Line Hotel

Here are some helpful thoughts from Jonathan and Tyler:

  • Get out of the rut: The tendency is to operate the way it’s always been done. If you think differently, you increase your chances of success
  • Don’t use tech to reduce your hours of labor as this is a high service industry
  • Look at your staff benefits, HR, and compensation to retain talent
  • Don’t pretend that Airbnb doesn’t exist: Work out how to compete with their dynamic marketplace

Also, Tyler purchased Stayntouch, an easy-to-use PMS service. He gears the product toward independent hotel owners, as he understands blending personal touch with tech.

How to Source a New Boutique Hotel When Supply is Challenging

With inventory floating on vessels off the coast of LA and prices soaring, you’re about to hear from two hoteliers who bought an inn 11 years ago, simply looking for the quiet life. Instead, their collective passion for hospitality and design resulted in a partnership that developed the impressive Salt Hotels.

Hutton Brickyards

David Bowd is the co-founder and CEO who learned the hospitality business from the ground up and earned top positions in well-recognized chains before laying the foundation for Salt Hotels.

David shared this creative approach to source staff locally: “How to recruit has changed… We’ve done community events with beer and wine. We meet people to chat and ask “are you interested in the industry?” We’ve seen their personalities and they’ve brought friends. Recently, 30% of our team has come from community events.”

Kevin O’Shea is the co-founder and CCO, with a BFA in Interior Design which he used to amass impressive achievements in the hotel design space before partnering with David.

Kevin had this thought on the importance of vendor relationships today: “Relationships are huge — We’re calling on all our friendly vendors and reps we’ve worked with for years, they’re in this too, and everyone’s trying to help each other out.”

David and Kevin lead offered this advice:

  • There’s no need to compromise on the design if your source can’t fill your order: Approach design with the end in mind and work your way back
  • Look on Instagram for unique and interesting accent items such as lamps
  • Visit big retailers for supply shortages as they’re filling some gaps with one-off items
  • Spend time on back-office comfort and allow your team to contribute and increase community spirit
  • Be open about your diversity and equality policies so that anyone looking to join your team can see that you’re helping to improve the industry

David and Kevin hang their hats on navigating this challenging time with kindness and empathy toward their vendors. Keeping their positive attitude has resulted in cooperation that allows them to continue to maintain profitability and expand their properties.

Owner Operators Think Smart and Grow

Atit Jariwala is the founder and CEO of Bridgeton. He’s the owner, operator, and developer of the most independent hotels in the New York area. He’s a master of experiential hospitality. He shared some insights with Ronit Copeland, the founder, and CEO of Copeland Hospitality.

Walker Hotel Greenwich Village

Atit’s thoughts about being an owner-operator vs owner: “It’s hard to be just an owner. I live and breathe the budget and stay deeply involved. When things go wrong, I don’t want to be lost as an owner without operational knowledge. Lenders trust you as an independent owner-operator. We build the soul of the hotel which makes lenders accommodating.”

Atit shared what kind of experiential tactics he’s employed to create deep memories:

  • Provide barbecue pits for guests to gather around
  • Give guests canoes to row on the river 
  • Set up bars in the garden
  • Guests fish for oysters to eat for dinner

Remember, as an owner-operator you can change business plans quickly and easily to pivot to new trends or needs.

Don’t Neglect Your Food and Beverage Revenue Stream!

Whether you’re running a hotel empire or cozy boutique, subpar food can taint your guest experience and lead to bad reviews with no return visits.

So you’re about to hear insights from two globe-trotting masters in this space.

Jody Pennette is the founder and CEO of the cb5 Hospitality Group. He travels worldwide with his team to create food and beverage concepts for hotels.

Jody reflected on what drives him: “The ability to inspire and lead a team. Execution, passion, and commitment come through.”

Amber Asher is CEO of Standard International. She’s built and led her team in the growth and international expansion of their brand which includes a wide range of food and beverage experiences for guests.

The Standard, East Village

Jody asked Amber how she’s able to lead a diverse brand and keep true to their message. Amber said: “We have a lot of creative voices. It’s a collaborative process. So, not only one person is in charge — It keeps things interesting, new, and fresh. Also, we partner with locals and give them a platform.”

Here are some ways to make your food and beverage magnetic:

  • Balance your venue with different levels of food
  • Offer something for everyone: For example, guests can move from cocktails to dinner to all-night dancing. Or, go from pretzels in the beer garden to the local ice-rink
  • Test and mix it up to see what people want
  • Make food and beverage the most tangible offering: From the coffee shop to fine dining
  • Offer a range of excellent beverages

The bottom line: When you make food and beverage tangible and appealing, it can be half of your revenue. That’s too much money to leave on the table.

It’s Time to Add Fresh Marketing Approaches

Speaking to your guests and delivering a positive message through marketing channels is a way to make your boutique lifestyle stand out.

So, Amy Draheim has some ideas that are easy for you to implement. Amy is the founder of the hospitality marketing company ABD Creative with a portfolio of travel, hospitality, and lifestyle clients from around the world.

Amy shared this about the importance of keeping the pulse of what’s going on in the community and sending a positive message: “Guests are looking for safety rather than the best deal. Offer lavish upgrades and take advantage of people coming out of the pandemic looking to “revenge travel.” Think about what value you can add.”

Amy also had these tips to share:

  • Focus on guest reviews rather than glossy ads. Harvard Review shows an increase of 9% in revenue for every star in rating
  • Implement downloading check-in apps before arrival
  • Connect with guests by sending personalized email messages
  • Emphasize what the guests can do rather than what they might miss out on due to Covid restrictions. For example, outdoor dining experiences … think limitless rather than limited
  • Use OTAs as your billboard to drag traffic to your website and take direct bookings
  • Include video reels of content weekly on social media
  • Use stickers, polls, and questions to make your engagement more immersive

Amy also had two more powerful tips about reviews… 

She’s a huge fan of influencer stays and called these kinds of reviews “guest reviews on steroids.” They’re cost-effective, diverse, and reach thousands of travelers.

Finally, treat negative reviews as an opportunity to tell your reader that you’ve fixed the problem.

Let’s close today with families…

How International Boutique Hotels Shine for Families

When you’re traveling internationally with kids, you want more than the roadside Super 8 with a ChuckECheese attached. Instead, offer something for everyone. 

How do you do that?

Kemi Wells, the founder, and president of Wells Luxury Travel spoke with Krystal Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, the co-founder of the idyllic beachfront hotel in Phuket, Thailand — The Slate. 

Here’s what Prakaikaew said: “Authenticity is the key … we want to offer genuine services and introduce guests to the heart and soul of Phuket. We have a large piece of land with eight restaurants and bars, and designated swimming pools with one just for kids. We offer a separation of lifestyle on a large property so no one is disturbed.”

It’s worth noting that many of the family offerings are entrenched in the local community. 

The Slate

Here are some tips for you:

  • Offer a family cooking school, from the experience of shopping at the local market for ingredients to cooking and eating
  • Let kids join in at their own experience center for activities such as archery or paddleboarding
  • Offer kids some food and extra activities for free
  • Keep experienced nannies on speed-dial
  • Place family suites safely on the ground floor
  • Bring local markets onto your property to enjoy more onsight culture

Thinking Differently Wins Loyalty for Boutique Hotels

You’re in a unique position to use your local flavor to “wow” your guests.

Our experts gave you a ton of ideas, and that can be overwhelming.

So, make sure to just pick a few ideas, implement them and see how they go. Remember, boutique hotels have the ability to pivot and employ tactics and trends quickly.

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