With last week's opening of the Waikiki Edition in Honolulu, the boutique and lifestyle segment of the hotel industry may have crossed into a new era of recognition and acceptance by the traveling public. While the national press was lauding the opening of the hotel, the first result of a strange marriage between Ian Schrager and Marriott International, owners, operators and would-be developers gathered at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for the 2nd annual Lifestyle/Boutique HotelConference.
While it wasn't covered by as many media outlets as the Edition opening, the conference may have signaled an even more important landmark for the boutique and lifestyle segment. The message conveyed by the 40 or so speakers at the three-day event sponsored by Lodging Hospitality was consistent: The boutique business has arrived in the minds of developers, brands and most importantly, lenders.
As development executive Ellen Brown pointed out, her firm, Denihan Hospitality, has never had to pay a premium for financing the independent boutique it owns and operates. And, of course, the reason is simple: Denihan and scores of other boutique and lifestyle hotel companies develop and operate properties that are extremely successful, have lots of loyal followers and, above all, are very profitable. When it's all said and done, the lodging business isn't about show business or headlines, it's about making money, and boutique and lifestyle hotels do it very well.
A lot of the conversation at the conference involved whether boutiques can be branded and what is the difference between a boutique and a lifestyle hotel, and does it matter anyway. While interesting, all this chatter was mostly noise. The real story of the conference, and of the burgeoning boutique business is the health of the segment and its very positive outlook for the coming years.