Lifestyle/Boutique Hotels Stay In the Spotlight

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There hasn't been much good news in the hotel industry in recent weeks, and one of the juicier stories is the saga of the perhaps-former Waikiki Edition. Owners of the $300-million-plus, 353-room property have been in a nasty spat with Marriott over the property's poor performance since it opened nearly 11 months ago. In a suit filed against the lodging giant, the owners say Marriott hasn't fulfilled its promises and the property has already lost more than $8 million.

The coup de grace occurred over the weekend when in the middle of the night the owners simultaneously changed the locks on the hotel (wait a minute, what hotel has outside locks?); installed a new operator, Aqua Hotels; and changed the name to Modern Honolulu. Not surprisingly, Marriott reacted immediately and not with good humor, proclaiming the takeover both “regrettable and illegal.” While this situation will probably take months to resolve, Marriott has taken a blow to its corporate credibility and the viability of its fledgling chain. (Assuming Marriott can't muscle its way back into the Honolulu hotel, it will be left with just one Edition open nearly five years since the brand was announced.)

This battle makes for good headlines and a lot of industry gossip but it shouldn't be taken as a sign of overall poor health for the boutique hotel industry. In fact, boutiques and so-called lifestyle hotels are still a hot topic among owners and developers looking to expand. Boutiques are generally smaller properties and even with upgraded facilities and décor packages, are easier to finance than, say, a big-box Marriott in a downtown or suburban location. And in many cities, boutique and lifestyle hotels are sought by the political and business elite for the cache they bring to a community. Cleveland, my hometown but no hotel hotbed, has two boutiques—an Aloft and a Kimpton—under development.

If you're looking to get involved in the boutique business, or if you already are and are looking to expand or simply run a more profitable operation, you should consider attending the upcoming Lifestyle/Boutique Hotel Development Conference. The 3rd annual conference, sponsored by Lodging Hospitality in association with HVS Hotel Management and The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University, will be held Oct. 19-21 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in the epicenter of the boutique hotel industry, Miami Beach.

This year's conference will feature a range of expert speakers to discuss developing, financing, designing, marketing and operating boutique hotels. Panel discussions will cover the definitions of a boutique, where to get money to build one, whether or not to put a brand on it, how to use social media to market it and much more. The conference will also include ample time for attendees to trade information, tips and gossip over coffee, cocktails and appetizers.

Visit the conference website to get all the details. I hope to see you in Miami Beach in October.

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