Boutique hotels are becoming increasingly popular as alternatives to regular hotels – but what is the difference between the two? Understanding the pros and cons can guide you to the right choice if you’re trying to decide between a larger hotel franchise and a boutique hotel.
Boutique hotels are small, usually 20-25 rooms, but no more than 100, and are owner controlled. With chain hotels, an individual or company sets the guidelines for all hotels in the group. Boutique hotels are often stylish and unique, while chain hotels can offer more amenities and value.
When I first started looking at what hotels to stay at when I was going to Paris, I noticed that boutique hotels were often given as an option, and I wanted to know if staying at one would make my trip better or worse. Would I save money, or would there not be much difference?
I quickly discovered that boutique hotels were not poky little hotels in ancient buildings as I had initially assumed. While there may be several matching that description, a boutique hotel can be modern, charming, or hip and cutting edge in style.
A boutique hotel is simply unique rather than part of a franchise. For example, many of your regular hotels are owned by huge hotel groups like Hilton, and minimum standards of cleanliness, staff training, style, and guest expectations must be adhered to.
While this can give you peace of mind regarding what to expect, they can also end up feeling impersonal and predictable. However, regular hotels can also often offer amenities that small boutique hotels cannot.
What Makes a Hotel a Boutique Hotel?
Boutique hotels generally use much smaller properties than standard hotels; some can have as few as ten rooms available. Boutique hotels are normally owner-run and are one of a kind. These small, intimate hotels can vary greatly in style, comfort, and value for money.
Because boutique hotels need to compete with larger franchise hotels for guests, and they usually do not have restaurants, gyms, and other big hotel amenities, they need to appeal to potential guests in other ways.
One of these is to provide a unique, stylish experience, where each room is individually decorated to a theme. Boutique hotels can range from chic and stylish, like Le Pigalle, to old-school glamor with lush interiors like Hotel Bourg-Tibourg.
Boutique hotels offer intimate, luxury hotel experiences with emphasis placed on exceptional service and attention to design and comfort. To be able to give guests a stay that has a personal touch, boutique hotels usually do not have more than a hundred rooms.
These independent hotels aim to be sophisticated and stylish to appeal to discerning travelers who want their stay to be part of their holiday experience. They find different ways to appeal to guests by offering personalized services that chain hotels don’t.
While boutique hotels can be found worldwide, they’re usually mainly in city centers, where they can offer guests value for money close to tourist attractions and destinations.
What Makes a Chain Hotel?
Chain hotels are all part of a hotel group. Usually, when hotels are part of a hotel group, the group will apply for official tourism status, and all the hotels will have this status. The same company operates the group, and all hotels must match their standards.
Some well-known hotel groups are Marriot, Hilton, and Four Seasons. With hotel chains, there are strict regulations for all the hoteliers about how the rooms must be set up, pricing levels, what must be provided, what drinks are available, and how guests are greeted.
This standardization assures clients that there will be no unwelcome surprises but can make chain hotels feel impersonal.
The Pros of a Boutique Hotel
- Boutique hotels appeal to people looking for something different or unique and who want to stay in a place that feels stylish and interesting to them.
- The smaller hotels can offer high-end services and, due to the limitations on size, can have a higher staff-to-guest ratio, which allows them to provide exceptional service.
- The experience of staying in a boutique hotel is part of the total holiday experience. The hotel may offer a more personal touch, have helpful staff with lots of local knowledge, and the hotels may be built in unusual buildings, which appeal to the Instagram crowd looking for unusual settings.
- Boutique hotels may also cater to certain types of travelers and have settings and rules that make them ideal for people looking for specific types of vacation accommodation. For example, a boutique hotel may be dog-friendly, not allow children, or may be located in the city’s gay district.
- Some boutique hotels will have small restaurants and bars, and each boutique hotel will offer amenities designed to make staying with them pleasant and comfortable. They are almost always centrally located in tourist cities and districts.
The Pros of a Chain Hotel
- Chain hotels offer guests a sense of security – they know what they will get when they pay, as the rooms and amenities are standardized.
- Some hotel chains may have hotels in the midscale, premium, and luxury divisions, while other hotel groups will cater to budget and economy stays. This range gives guests a good idea of which hotels to look for in their budget.
- Large chains usually have internal reservation systems that make booking easy and can offer good discount percentages when rooms are booked in advance.
- Chain hotels usually have enough space to cater to conventions and large group bookings.
- Many chain hotels are standard stops on shuttle services from airports, making travel easy.
The Cons of a Boutique Hotel
- Because boutique hotels are not standardized, a hotel may leave you feeling frustrated when it’s not what you expected.
- They can be costly as they cater to a more exclusive clientele.
- Small hotels cannot offer the same amenities as large luxury hotels, like swimming pools, gyms, conference rooms, and large reception areas.
- Because they usually have a limited number of rooms, they are usually unsuitable for large group bookings such as weddings.
- Boutique hotels rarely offer loyalty programs to regular guests.
The Cons of a Chain Hotels
- Chain hotels can feel very ‘samey,’ as the décor and style are designed to reflect the hotel group’s image and give a feeling of cohesion.
- Larger hotels may not be in the center of cities but further out where they have room for big, multi-story developments.
- Hoteliers are locked into franchise rules and have less control over their business and what they can offer.
Boutique hotels offer travelers unique accommodations in tourist centers and often go above and beyond when providing service and attention to detail. This luxury focus can come with a high cost, and a larger chain hotel could provide better value for money.
Large chains must keep to the standards set by the hotel group so guests are unlikely to run into unexpected problems. While boutique hotels can offer stunning, high-quality accommodation, not all boutique hotels are equal in their presentation and service.