Monday, May 9, 2011
Boutique Hotels in Costa Rica? Should they be Added to the Endangered List?
Walking down memory lane to the 1990’s, Costa Rica welcomed their first world class hotel chain, the Spanish firm known as Barceló. Specializing in the “All Inclusive” style of lodging, this style of travel did not take much of a foothold in this country, and the Boutique Hotel market remained the most popular choice for tourist accommodations. Now we fast forward some 20 years and Costa Rica hosts some 9 major hotel chains! Everything from Marriott, to Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Choice, Wyndham, Four Seasons and the most recent group….Riu, now serve as the main players, with more jumping in each year. Does this mean the Boutique Hotel concept is ready for the endangered list in Costa Rica?
The "boutique" style is said to have been created in New York back in 1984, though there are valid arguments that in 1981 both London and San Francisco boasted the first boutique sized hotels. Most likely, 1984 might be when the term “boutique hotel” actually was coined, with the term coming into more mainstream use. Entrepreneurs Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell opened the boutique Morgans New York on Madison Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, and the concept grew by leaps and bounds from there. Morgans was small, stylish and unique, unlike the big brand-name hotels that predominated the markets at that time. The actual term "boutique hotel" was said to be coined by Rubell himself, who described their new hotel venture as being like a boutique as opposed to a department store. A very succinct analogy if you ask me!
The most defining characteristics of boutique style hotels are that they are generally small properties, with less than 100 rooms and more often averaging between 3 and 50 rooms total. They take great pride in offering a super chic atmosphere, unique design and décor, contemporary styling and quite popular these days, a rich historical value or background. Most boutique hotels provide highly personalized service, with very hands-on staff, management and/or ownership, offering a genuine personality that just can’t be found in the large hotel chains. Services can be limited depending on the size and luxury level of the property or you can often find some of the most dynamic local and gourmet restaurants, world class spas, and other unique features that make them stand out from the standard hotel offering. The concept has been so successful, that most multi-national hotel corporations have begun to brand their own chains of boutique resorts in order to try to capture a share of this huge market.
Still a popular choice for hotels in Costa Rica, the concept of “boutique”, “design” or “lifestyle” hotels, as they are often referred, has spread throughout the world, to include European & East Asian countries, appearing in such places as Indonesia, mainland China, Japan, Iceland, Turkey, India & the Middle East, just to name a few. They continue to remain popular options throughout Central and South America as well or basically anywhere that provides a desirable destination for travel. I am fairly certain that you will find some sort of boutique hotel in almost any corner of the world these days!
There are no longer cookie cutter molds for guests seeking the “Boutique experience”. Travelers are constantly looking for something new and different, while definitely expecting more than the simple comforts once acceptable to the average vacationista. Whether planning a business trip, destination wedding, honeymoon getaway, adults only escape, or just an overdue vacation, when planning travel, guests more often than not seek properties that are noticeably different in look and feel from the large branded hotels. Boutique hotels now even present a certain level of social branding. Those staying at these establishments are often considered as trendy, daring, fashionable, hip travelers that are quite often more ecologically minded. Since boutique facilities and their pricing can vary dramatically, there are now boutique properties designed to suit every demographic, any price range or social class, always with the idea of creating an unforgettable “guest experience” that just cannot be found in the larger hotel properties.
Boutique hotels retain certain benefits when it comes to cost of operations and overall profitability. They often have a large customer base to work with, as well as being favored by smaller travel agencies or tour operators that are looking to sell the “experiential” concept that the boutique hotel property has to offer. Since boutique hotel owners do not have to pay a franchise fee to be part of a larger chain, the hotel can often operate with a lower overhead that adding costly amenities such as restaurants, spas and convention & meeting spaces would create. However, these added amenities can generate significant profitability and appeal to the hotel's bottom line, so more often than not you will find every sort of amenity imaginable in todays boutique hotel properties. Another benefit for boutique hotel owners is that well established small properties tend to have a higher rate of repeat and word of mouth business compared to normal industry standards, which can save on boutique sized marketing budgets rarely able to compete with the huge marketing budgets of large branded properties. Nevertheless, successful boutique hotels must continually adapt to the constantly changing trends, needs, tastes, preferences, and technology in order to remain competitive in this cut throat hotel market.
In the end, whether it's the most isolated green hotel getaway, the most unique historical location, the most private white sand beach, impeccable five-star white glove service, or you are just looking for that travel environment that loans their son’s boogey board, gives you cookies from their kitchen, offers the most incredible personalized guest services, or located in the most super chic locale, boutique hotels in every instance cater to their guests every need and whim. Who doesn’t want that kind of attention on their hard earned vacation?
So for your next Costa Rica vacation, bypass that mega chain hotel and try one of the many Costa Rican Boutique Hotels, you will be personally helping keep these unique properties off Costa Rica’s endangered list!!
If you have a favorite boutique hotel you have visited, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section!!
Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.