Top ten boutique hotel future trends for 2014

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Hotel shopfronting
Hotel frontages will become more competitive places for advertising brands. It's not about an increased number parading affiliation plaques, or a multitude of front door or window stickers displaying the latest hotel recommendation or award for a variety of accolades - they're all too numerous, less noticeable and becoming distracting in nature. The majority are non-revenue generating for the hotelier welcoming the pre-booked guest. Even worse, many promote the very OTAs that take heavy booking commissions - why? That's a discussion for another time but we think there will be an increased focus on incremental direct revenue generation from appropriate third-party advertisers who value the space and a captive hotel guest demographic more. Expect to see more engaging hotel front window 'theatre' and digital brand advertising with heightened social media interaction popping up, particularly in high-value advertiser urban locations. Let's not forget, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London's prime retail store windows are amongst the most expensive in the world for brands to secure - tempted?

OTAs get closer to the hotel guest
These online travel agent technology companies are becoming a huge threat to direct hotel bookings, achieving expanding market share with heavy investment and increased customer (guest) loyalty based on price attractiveness. Price will remain a dominating factor. Expect to see OTAs collaborating more and purchasing 'high-touch' service travel agents or similar, as they look to get closer to guests in other ways, based on making the complete travel experience easier - keep an eye out for a splurge of complementing free mobile apps developed by OTAs too.    

Hostels create the 'pos(h)tel' experience
The luxury hostel category grows boutique and individual, taking form and design inspiration from the likes of 'boutique chic' Citizen M and Marriott's Moxy hotel brands. Upscale hostels are now a booming business with many urban locations offering flexible lodging pricepoints, safe and friendly accommodation and great value food and beverage options.They're gunning for Generation Y business all day long as increasingly sophisticated young travellers on a budget migrate for the homier comforts of a posh hostel. It won't be long before established hotel groups scoop up the major players in the sector in an effort to understand and retain this future hotel guest.
Mobile no more
The 'year of mobile' has come and gone as smartphone manufacturers show signs that mobile is no longer an emerging technology or media platform with flat revenues and declining average selling price for devices. Despite mobile accounting for 20 per cent of all travel sales, hoteliers battle to convert mobile users who are currently three times less likely to book a hotel room than those using a PC. Hotel marketers who proclaim themselves innovative and disruptive will already be looking elsewhere in the technological sphere for the next big thing.

Tangible technology
Cutting-edge hoteliers focus on 'wearable tech', with Google already pushing, albeit slightly odd looking, Google Glass to the market.  Applications are numerous and hotel marketing innovators envisage what's possible and wonder how and when these technologies will be adopted by business and the average consumer. We're likely to see front of house staff wearing Google glasses for guest facial recognition as early as the first quarter of 2014. Suffice to say hotel websites will place more focus on remote engagement to reflect "what's happening in the hotel right now" with real time applications.
Hotel reviews come clean
Cleanliness is always a top priority for guests, and boutique hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests with a safe and secure environment. Housekeeping practices vary across brands and properties with little or no standardization industry wide. The current validation method for hotel room cleanliness is a visual assessment, which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation. Expect more regular and thorough contamination checks by hotel owners with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) measuring devices for instance, that determines microbial contamination on surfaces, and ultraviolet light pens for detecting stains invisible to the naked eye. Don't be surprised to see fanatical hotel reviewers carrying this handy tool!

Luxury leaves the middle-class developed world behind
For the luxury traveller who can still afford the high-end, things are going great.
However, technology and the free flow of information continue to remove middle-class jobs, and those that remain do not pay what they once did. The cost of being middle class has increased out of proportion to the cost of merely living. This has ramifications from a boutique hotel guest booking, spend and hotel management wage perspective. Any middle class is essentially an urban phenomenon. In days past, when a town and its hotel industry fell into decline, its middle class disappeared. But as a new town rose in tandem with hotel development, a new middle class would spring up as if by magic. And that's what is happening now. A new middle class is appearing in Russia, India, China and the Middle East, and it's perhaps no surprise future projected hotel new builds in these areas tower over everywhere else.

The rise and fall of room service creates a new dining experience
Hilton Midtown New York's recent removal of room service sent shockwaves through the hotel industry. If management provide a service which is only marginally valued by the guest at best, then there is a strong motivation to end such a practice, and offer a simple, yet more streamlined approach to guest services. The elimination of room service also eliminates exorbitant service charges and guest complaints about cold food that's supposed to be hot, exorbitantly priced items and late deliveries. Ask yourself, whether removing room service and a food and beverage offering takes the experience out of your boutique hotel stay, or does it just make things a bit more streamlined, cut accommodation expenses and ensure a more "experiential" trip. For example, the recently opened Nadler boutique hotel in Soho, London encourages lodgers to dine in the local area because the offering is so good, liberating guests from the limitations of room service and restaurant fare. A grab and go breakfast offering like from the Aloft select-service brand with rooms designed with an empty fridge (no mini bar) for guests to use is the closest 'halfway house' option we've seen, catering to the ever more individually empowered guest who value their freedom and "no strings" approach. Denihan Hospitality's Affinia Hotels, a small luxury-boutique chain, has taken this approach one step further linking with the online grocer FreshDirect to provide specially packed meals for guests including healthy options. Through this partnership, Affinia Hotels can have guests' rooms fully stocked upon arrival, so that they feel like they're at home during their visit - hotel grocery delivery is not just for select-service, extended-stay or family resorts anymore.

There is nothing more personal than food. Consumers today have an amazing personal connection with what they put into their bodies. Dining has become a comprehensive and interactive experience with diners becoming more knowledgeable about their food choice, peppering the waiting staff and chef with questions about sustainability, responsible husbandry, and local chef-prepared ingredients top dining trends. As a result, boutique hotels will focus on the trend of fresh, local and in season, displaying the percentage of locally sourced food or similar on the menu.  Current buzzwords include 'farm to fork' and the SLOW philosophy ( seasonal, local, organic and wild), 'snackification' and 'small-plate movement' - the trend of communal and informal eating. The lure of small portions that encourage diners to purchase additional dishes, therefore increasing revenue. Variations include a healthy eating / low calorie total meal approach. While product is everything, don't underestimate organisational innovation with hotels increasingly taking their food offering to the street. The "Taste by Four Seasons" food trucks for example.
More luxury retailers move into hospitality
With Millennials defining themselves more by what they do than what they own, luxury brands continue to dare to remain relevant with consumers whose appetite for luxury and definition of luxury is constantly changing. Luxury retailers are already expanding beyond fashion and accessories as they aim to keep their customers interested with a 360 degree experience, based on what they are buying, what they are eating, where they are staying and who they are listening to. Boutique hotel guests are looking for information not only from their family and friends, but also from brand experts - balancing professional and shareable opinions with personal advice.

There are undoubtably more boutique hotel trends that haven't made the list and we'd love to hear your thoughts. If you have a view, join the conversation below.

These topics and more will be discussed at the forthcoming International Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit, May 12-13, 2014, London

Click here to read Piers' predictions for 2013.


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