When is a boutique hotel not a boutique hotel?

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For starters, everybody you ask will have different criteria: their answer could be based on number of rooms, design style, location, whether the property in question is independently owned and operated, or even price.

At the first Boutique Hotel Summit in 2011, we brought together a panel of industry big hitters in an attempt to define exactly what constitutes a boutique hotel. The likes of Firmdale's Craig Markham, Mr & Mrs Smith's James Lohan, Thompson Hotels' Jason Pomeranc and Marriott's Tim Walton all had heartfelt and well argued opinions, as did many of the delegates at the event who chipped in.

And guess what? None of them agreed. There were certain areas where people's opinions overlapped but just as many points of difference.

And as far as we know there is no official legal definition of a boutique hotel anywhere in the world. Until now that is, because the authorities in Malaysia, specifically the tourism ministry, is "looking at classifying the term boutique hotels to prevent budget hotels from disguising themselves as one".

They are basing their definition on price and number of rooms. Tourism minister Dr Ng Yen Yen said: "The Tourism Ministry welcomes the setting up of boutique hotels but in the right context and in the high end (quality and rates) direction. We don't want just any hotel to term itself 'boutique' and give the wrong impression. Boutique hotels must have a room rate of above RM500 a night."

Stating that to be a boutique hotel you have to charge a room rate above a certain level is controversial enough, but the startling element to the proposed definition is that it only includes properties with a maximum of TEN ROOMS! Here at Boutique Hotel News we sincerely hope that this does not become accepted as an international yardstick, or we would have a seriously diminished pool of properties to write about.

Thankfully, the Malaysian tourism ministry appears willing to listen to suggestions. "We have received appeals saying 10 is too few and so we listened to them. But to us, a boutique hotel cannot be lumped with any other hotel. It is an hotel in its own class," said the minister.

The reason for the proposed definition is that some properties in Kuala Lumpur have been marketing themselves as boutique hotels while offering low quality accommodation.

If you want to add your thoughts to the Malaysian debate, you can do so here

But in the meantime we want to know what you, the boutique hotel industry, think is the definition of a boutique hotel. Please add your comments below this blog entry and let's get the debate started.

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