Britain’s boutique hotels will be better positioned to manage the evolution of the hospitality sector than their chain-run counterparts, as guests increasingly seek unique, tailored experiences here in the UK.
Even if the booster jab campaign brings the Omicron variant under control early in 2022, the New Year is unlikely to herald a widespread return to overseas travel. Demand for flight-free travel has increased during the pandemic, with 70% of travellers now agreeing that urgent action is needed to save the planet.
And while talk of “staycations” may conjure images of boring big-name resorts or sterile city-centre stayovers, British boutique hotels are the unsung heroes of a hospitality sector that is ready to embrace the holiday on home soil. With uniqueness and authenticity woven into their DNA, they will appeal to guests most in the post-pandemic climate.
Delivering an unforgettable experience
Human beings crave new experiences. In fact, a recent study found that 65% of travellers want to return from a trip having experienced something new – and the true figure is probably far higher than that.
Guests want to do something novel, and nothing says “novel” quite like the murder mystery events at Burgh Island Hotel, inspired by the books of Agatha Christie, some of which were written on and inspired by the island. Alternatively, if that does not appeal, perhaps the sustainable shark-tagging trips in local waters will float their boat.
The point is to deliver a standout experience that guests will not forget in a hurry, and this is done far more easily at a boutique hotel. A chain hotel is just that: a hotel. A boutique hotel, on the other hand, is an experience made memorable by being more than just a place to sleep.
Indeed, the advent of the “daycation” in recent weeks highlights just how much of a hotel’s value is about more than just a bed and breakfast. With the latest data showing that hospitality sales are still well short of pre-pandemic levels, guests are being encouraged to use hotel facilities for daytime experiences. The unique offering of a boutique hotel will be far more likely to attract interest.
This does not mean that one-of-a-kind luxury hotels can afford to be complacent, particularly when another recent study found that young travellers associate luxury with unique and enriching life experiences. While millennials and Gen-Z may not be the usual audience for these hotels, maintaining a diverse pipeline of potential guests is important for businesses’ long-term resilience. On top of the fancy bedroom, therefore, they should offer experiences that will appeal to younger guests, such as mouth-watering delicacies made from locally sourced ingredients, satisfying their appetite for sustainability. Providing luxury with a conscience will be a key differentiator in 2022 and beyond.
Retaining history and identity
Another advantage that boutique hotels possess is their ability to immerse guests in a more potent sense of history and independence of spirit, quite unlike the monolithic chain hotels of today. Offering guests the opportunities to learn about the history and culture of a particular location is an ideal way to create a memorable stay.
Delivering a convenient service should certainly not come at the expense of character. While refurbishment projects will inevitably be required to introduce modern amenities such as super fast Wi-Fi, or to upgrade plumbing and electrical work, minimising design changes will allow guests to gain more from the storied history of venerable old hotels. This was the strategy we adopted at Burgh Island Hotel, where necessary refurbishment projects were carefully carried out to retain the authenticity of the art deco style in each individual room.
A large part of the reason why boutique hotels such as Burgh Island are so popular is the strong sense of identity, with which chain hotels simply cannot compete. Burgh Island’s identity is couched in its 1920s art deco origins, for instance, and guests are given plenty of authentic features to marvel at, from the magnificent glass ceiling of Palm Court to the finer details in each of the furnishings.
Boutique hotels have the charm that provides guests with that little something extra. In fact, “something extra” is essentially a must, more so in the post-pandemic world when the premium placed on escapism will be higher than ever. Guests want something different from their stay, and that difference is much easier to deliver if you are a one-of-a-king boutique hotel than a cookie-cutter chain business.
Uniqueness and authenticity
This, then, is how the UK’s boutique hotels should capitalise on their defining characteristics as domestic holidays continue to be a popular choice in 2022. By providing exciting experiences that guests cannot get anywhere else, thanks to the individuality of their offering, these hotels will deliver an attractive proposition that chain hotels will find it extremely difficult to emulate.