By Michael Tall
The boutique hotel customer is looking for a certain type of experience that transcends a bed in a room. This traveler is looking for a broader experience that is driven by authenticity and discovery. These two aspects directly play into a boutique hotel’s story.
For a hotel to be authentic, it needs to relate to something real and relevant with significant meaning. This can be achieved through its relevance to the local neighborhood, or its representation of a time period or style—if done correctly and genuinely. Defining a fully-developed story behind the hotel’s unique brand identity can convey a greater sense of authenticity.
On the discovery side, travelers have a desire to learn something new during their experience. A hotel with a unique story will fulfill this longing, while also offering them a stepping stone for continued exploration within the destination. Another great opportunity for storytelling can be found in the food and beverage department, whether by offering a local brew that isn’t available in stores or partnering with a local farmer for exclusive ingredients that can only be on the hotel’s exclusive menu. In this age of the internet, many people feel as if they have seen it all. A hotel with a strong story and identity will prove them wrong, while a distinct F&B experience will keep them engaged.
The story is in the details One of the reasons that boutique hotels have become so popular is due to the commoditization of chains. It became difficult to discern the differences between flags, and boutique hotels offered a solution by differentiating. At the same time, boutique hotels offered something beyond the cookie-cutter chain product – they became a curated, detail-oriented expression of the destination (down to the last doorknob or do not disturb sign).
Upon walking into a hotel with eclectic décor, you might ask, “What’s the meaning behind this artwork?” Without a story behind it, the design element is nothing but pretentious. At that point, there is no value proposition for the guest. Think about it this way: If someone were to get a tattoo, would they pick a design simply because it looks “cool?” Or would they gravitate towards a design that has a meaning to them?
Authenticity can quickly become pretense if the boutique hotel’s distinct story is not well-developed. A hotel concept and story are one and the same. Therefore, each design choice or operational action must be rooted in this story, and every element of the hotel must be a continuation of that brand identity.
Writing the story Sometimes, due to the nature of the property, a hotel’s story can write itself, while other times more work is required.
Simon Sinek is known for the “Golden Circle” branding strategy, which starts by asking “why.” He explains that once we find the answer to “why,” it leads us to the “how,” and only then are we able to identify the “what.” (Why does a guest feel so positively about their visit? How can we ensure more guests feel this way? What are the specific steps or initiatives we should put in place to do so?) In the case of guest experience, the “what” is articulated through the hotel’s story – which encompasses design, services and feeling of comfort.
Those steps will help the hotel’s story and brand develop. This process should include everyone from the executive team, the hotel developers and the design team so that everyone is on the same page to create a consistent story for the brand.
Telling the story Once the story is written, it’s meaningless unless it’s told. Lifestyle and travel media are important vehicles to get the story out. Again, this is where your story’s authenticity comes into play. The story needs to pass the sniff test, so to speak. If the story is not fully formed or is inauthentic, the media will not write about it.
To take flight, the story needs to have a plot and characters—these can be people or things in the hotel. For example, the Deer Path Inn was built on the site of an old hunter’s log cabin. In the garden, there is a huge bronze sculpture of a stag that has been there for over half a century and represents the hotel’s story. Everyone wants to take a picture with the statue, which gets people talking and sharing. The hotel’s story is constantly being told.
The story needs to resonate with consumers. Otherwise, why will they care? Effective branding is the key to telling a compelling story. Once a boutique hotel masters this, today’s guests will flock to it.