Lifestyle brands, such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts' W Hotels or the expanding Hotel Indigo brand from IHG, were the topic of discussion at an event at the summit at Altitude London earlier this week.
"Boutique is so much more bespoke than lifestyle," Nina Basset, co-owner of Hotel TerraVina told the gathered audience of hoteliers. "I don’t see how a boutique hotel can be ‘boutique enough’ by being part of a chain."
However Basset, whose hotel announced earlier this month it was merging with Alan Murchison's fine-dining restaurant group 10 in 8, said far from fearing the growth of chains trying out the boutique or lifestyle offering, independent hotels should welcome the move.
"We do find it difficult but the competition is healthy. It keeps you on your toes and it makes you ensure your standards stay high and you keep on developing fresh ideas and you market those initiatives to make sure you keep up with the big boys," she said.
"We hope that we are offering the best of both worlds." Referring to the US-based firm's Autograph collection of hotels, Tim Walton, vice president international development of Marriott International, said the collection merged independent hotels with the distribution systems and significant clout of a global company. "It is still a fully independent experience as far as the guest is concerned and yet overlaying that you have the delivery of a big channel."
Walton, who said hotels that joined its collection experienced RevPAR growth in the mid to high teens, added that the terms lifestyle and boutique were increasingly becoming merged.
Mark Jones, senior director of hotel development for Europe the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Worldhotels, said that while there was a clear distinction between the boutique sector and the 'mastige' - or mass prestige - brands from chains, some hotels did need to be part of a chain or collection.
"There are certainly hotels that need an affiliation. It depends on the location of the hotel, the competitive set and the kind of business delivery that the hotel needs in that market," he said.
Worldhotels is a chain of hotels which remain individual and are not centrally managed - 30 to 40 per cent of which are defined as boutique.
Jones also made the point that many boutique hotels in London and New York were in a position of being able to be selective about guests unlike the lifestyle brands from some chains.
"With lifestyle hotels purely because they are bigger you need critical mass – it is essential to the success of your business model. You can’t be so choosy and you are opening your channels through online travel agencies (OTAS) and third parties," he said.
However Basset, who said she did not like the Hotel du Vin brand she sold to Malmaison in 2004 being referred to as a chain, told the audience boutique hotels had to be clever and work harder on marketing. Basset revealed Hotel TerraVina does not take part in a ratings system and avoids third party booking systems as they tend to deliver guests who are less keen to spend in the bar or restaurant.
Concluding the session at the summit, Walton told the audience whether it was boutique or lifestyle the demographics of the guests were changing and they were demanding an 'experience' from their accommodation. "That is the sector that we have identified that we want to be trading within," he said.