In an age where big chain hotels are king throughout most of the world, the ever-growing boutique hotel sector in London is catching on as an ideal accommodation option for travelers seeking a unique and upscale stay in the U.K. capital. Since the independent trend first appeared in the United States during the 1980s, smaller properties have prided themselves on giving guests a warm, more localized experience not usually found in the hotels’ larger counterparts. And as we’ve found in London, the supply and demand for the personalized luxury of boutique hotels is growing at an unprecedented rate.
Aldo Melpignano, developer and owner of the popular London boutique San Domenico House, says he believes it’s because boutique hotels offer something different. “Guests, at all price points, are looking more for unique, local and personalized experiences,” he explains. “While top chains offer outstanding service, they do so in a standardized way. In a boutique hotel you see genuine warmth and care that feels natural—and guests appreciate this.”
Considering its rapidly growing role in the hotel industry, the definition of a boutique hotel is surprisingly hard to pin down. While they were once typically independent or part of small collections, there are now boutiques owned by big chains (such as Edition by Marriott and W by Starwood); and once always small and intimate, some newer London boutiques boast 100 rooms, along with multiple restaurants and extensive spas and gyms. In modern terms, a boutique hotel can be centuries old or ultra contemporary, strictly adult or family friendly.
One of the most common factors in the hundreds of London hotels that label themselves “boutique” is having a clear theme for the design and furnishings, as well as an ambiance of comfortable (not stuffy) luxury. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Belgraves – A Thompson Hotel, for example, blends a decidedly American bohemian attitude with traditional British hospitality. Acclaimed British designer and Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Tara Bernerd fashioned the hotel’s chic interiors that now set the creative tone for Thompson in Europe.
The big question now is whether this luxury hotel trend can be sustained. As a relatively new phenomenon — boutiques first opened in New York and London in the early 1980s — some say they are now at the peak of their popularity and will soon go out of fashion, like the western capsule hotels of the 2000s. In reality, most hoteliers agree the boutique niche is now too integral to the industry — and too favored by large swathes of the public — to just disappear.
Indeed, many new London boutiques are set to open shortly. Hip hotelier André Balazs is rumored to be bringing the Hollywood glitz of his Chateau Marmont to the heart of London this year — his first European hotel. It’s a huge vote of confidence in the long-term prospects of the city’s boutique sector. In addition, indicators suggest more London boutique hotels will be opened (or bought out) by big multi-national chains.
The major industry players have already shown the desire for a slice of the boutique pie, and can offer the independents not only increased exposure, but also features like better online booking platforms and streamlined services. The planned opening of chain offerings like the 350-room Art’otel London Hoxton suggests further flexing of the definition “boutique” too.
Whatever the future holds, London’s boutiques will be part of it. And with such a rapid rise in such a slow economy, perhaps the best years for this boutique streak still lie firmly ahead.
Photos Courtesy of Tara Bernerd, San Domenico House