Small Inn and Bed and Breakfast Industry Articles
Boutique vs. chain hotels: It's a matter of taste
October 8, 2010
Given that business travellers are spending increasingly more time on the road, finding the right hotel is key. Luckily, they have more options than ever, from the tried-and-true branding of large chains to the smaller boutique hotels aiming for a chunk of the business-travel market.
Both options work, but offer distinctly contrasting atmospheres.
We checked in with two of the country’s top picks for business travellers – the busy downtown Marriott Hotel in Calgary, and Vancouver’s popular Opus Hotel – for a head-to-head look at the chain-vs.-boutique-hotel experience.
The boutique hotel: Opus Vancouver
Opened in 2002, Vancouver’s Opus Hotel sees a steady stream of business travellers from the creative sectors (entertainment, gaming and fashion clients in particular) who are drawn to the modern 96-room space in the trendy downtown Yaletown area, says Amy Ballard, the hotel’s director of sales.
Ms. Ballard notes that the typical business traveller’s stay at Opus averages two and a half days (which lines up with the standard across the country at both chain and boutique establishments), and that clients are usually drawn to the hotel for its ambience, location and bespoke service.
The luxury experience: Boutique hotels have become synonymous with the idea of quirky cool, and Opus caters to that trend, featuring a stylish aesthetic with the guestrooms and decor themed with five “personalities,” each with a vivid colour scheme.
“I have years of both chain and boutique experience from the States, and I’ve heard first-hand from business travellers that they tend to live on the road, so they spend maybe up to 10 per cent of the year in a hotel somewhere,” Ms. Ballard says. “So when they check in, they usually walk into a room with four white walls – it doesn’t matter what city, they all look the same. But when you come to Opus, you have a very different experience – you don’t forget where you’ve showed up at night.”
Other special touches include BMW car service for guests, complimentary welcome beverages upon arrival, a perks card offering discounts at area businesses, and their own in-house Zagat-rated hot spot, the graffiti-themed 100 Days restaurant and bar.
All that luxury does come with a price – Ms. Ballard acknowledges that the hotel’s rates tend be among the highest in the city, with rooms ranging from $239 to $309 a night. “Typically our business travellers don’t expect us to match a typical big-box hotel,” Ms. Ballard notes. “We’re offering luxury service in a unique environment in a great area of town, so that helps us to command a higher rate.”
Keep it local: Thanks to the Canada Line rapid transit train, guests can arrive at Opus’ front door from the Vancouver airport in 22 minutes, a major draw for those with hectic schedules. The hotel’s location in the heart of Yaletown, a fashionable shopping and nightlife district, is also a big plus, with more than 60 restaurants and many of the city’s best-known retail spots all within walking distance.
“If you choose a boutique hotel, you’re going to get something that has the flavour of the local culture,” Ms. Ballard says. “Business travellers want to have a unique experience. They’ve gotten on a plane and left their families, so why show up to a boring hotel room that could be just anywhere?”
The personal touch: A smaller boutique hotel can better serve the needs of individual business travellers, Ms. Ballard suggests, noting that the hotel’s staff are able to personally greet each of the 40 or so arrivals each day and ensure each has an ideal stay.
“We know exactly who’s coming in, how many stays they’ve had with us. We see all their preferences, and so we can prepare specific amenities for these guests and give them the personalized attention you just can’t give when you’re at a larger hotel,” Ms. Ballard says.
Staff are also able to take feedback from guests and quickly translate that into changes or improvements, something that’s more easily done at a single establishment rather than at a chain, Ms. Ballard says.
Boutique hotels like Opus may also be good options for companies flying several employees to a city for work. With only 96 rooms, the hotel can more easily negotiate a volume rate for a number of rooms that might be too small to secure a group discount at bigger chains.
The chain hotel: Marriott Calgary
Booming Calgary sees plenty of business travellers, and the downtown Marriott, situated across from the city’s main convention centre and close to the business district, attracts regular clients. Many of the hotel’s business travellers are from the United States, says the hotel’s general manager, Joseph Clohessy.
At 23 floors and 374 rooms, the Marriott delivers a different experience for the business traveller.
Tried and true: The main reason business travellers gravitate toward a large chain is brand recognition, Mr. Clohessy notes. Knowing exactly what they’re going to get no matter what city they’re in is attractive to business travellers.
“We have a lot of travellers coming in for work on a consistent basis, and what we hear regularly is that they appreciate the familiarity of coming to stay with us,” says Mr. Clohessy, noting that business travellers make up two-thirds of the Marriott Calgary’s guests. “The comments we receive is that it’s like having a second family.”
The hotel’s size means rates are competitive, starting at $249 a night, and while each location in the chain will cater to local needs, the hotel still features the amenities of any Marriott, including 10 styles of suites, meeting rooms, an in-house restaurant and lounge.
Stick to the routine: Business travellers who spend much of their time on the road often seek to maintain their daily routines while away from home, and the Marriott can help them do that thanks to a gym and pool for workouts, an in-house Starbucks Coffee, on-site meeting rooms and a full-service business centre that can accommodate last-minute projects.
“Our customers are the ‘achiever’ customer,” Mr. Clohessy says. “They want to get stuff done – they want to be able to have high-speed Internet, be able to get work done in the evening, have some room service so they can be productive on the road, and we aim to help them achieve their goals.”
And it isn’t all work and no play – Mr. Clohessy says business travellers are increasingly looking to combine business with pleasure, whether entertaining or holding working dinners at the hotel’s in-house restaurant or lounge.
“There’s a social aspect when people are gone for eight weeks a year – they want to be able to go downstairs to the lounge and have a bite to eat and a glass of wine, but at the same time talk about the project that they’re working on, because that’s their opportunity to debrief,” Mr. Clohessy says.
Rewarding behaviour: One thing chain hotels offer across the board that many boutique hotels can’t match is access to rewards programs, something many regular business travellers consider when choosing a hotel. At the Marriott Calgary, the program includes access to the concierge lounge, in-room Internet access and other amenities, depending on the program level. Guests who stay at any Marriott hotel can amass and redeem points for everything from a free night’s stay to upgraded amenities during their visit.
“The loyalty program is very popular with regular visitors,” Mr. Clohessy says. “That extra level of service is what they’re looking for.”