A collage of different colored circles.

How can boutique hotels cater to the desires of today’s travelers?

Research Project Name

Beyond Boutique

What We Did

We started by identifying current trends and perspectives on boutique hotels, including documenting the various definitions different brands/groups use to define “boutique.” To understand the growth and evolution of boutique hotels, we created a timeline of key developments and properties alongside case studies of selected hotels in Los Angeles. We then investigated up-and-coming trends to identify both the current criteria that define a successful boutique hotel, and those that will be essential to the design of future boutique hotels.

The Context

While some consider size the most important factor in determining whether a hotel is a boutique hotel or not, many believe it has more to do with the approach or attitude of the hoteliers in creating the look-and-feel of the property. Unlike many corporate hotel chains, which have consistent branding among many locations, boutique hotels are typically privately owned and strive for a one-of-a-kind experience. Nonetheless, while most boutique hotels began as independent endeavors, many larger corporate brands have caught on to the allure of these properties and now have boutique-oriented subbrands, or in rare cases, smaller boutique hotels within larger hotels.

The Results

Travelers who select boutique hotels are not just seeking a more intimate stay outside the standard luxury hotel offering. They are also looking to experience their destination through their lodging. This is achieved by hotels that become an integral part of the neighborhood in which they exist, and do everything they can to reflect and be a part of their local community. Our review of trends and case stories identified a series of strategies and characteristics common to many successful boutique hotel properties that achieve this hyper-local sense of place.

One way that boutique hotels often become neighborhood fixtures is through repurposing of old iconic buildings. Whether within an old theater, factory, or apartment building, a hotel that operates inside a historic landmark creates a unique sense of place and authenticity. These hotels also often strive for a residential look-and-feel, with design schemes and decor varying among rooms. In line with the growing popularity of Airbnb, these hotels make guests feel as if they have their very own apartment in the neighborhood, not just a hotel room.

The inclusion of social and community spaces in the building is also a key strategy, with the ultimate goal of creating a place where locals, not just travelers, want to be. Many hotels work with artists, designers, and chefs to integrate custom features into their design and experience—whether an art piece or a menu inspired by regional cuisine. And to entice the locals to visit, these hotels focus on creating a sense of community with vibrant social experiences, serving as ideal hangout spots for their neighborhoods, and mixing visitors and regulars for a feeling that’s more neighborhood coffee shop than hotel lobby.

What This Means

Hotels with a cause. Through regionally inspired art and architecture, local cuisine, and community-based education and entertainment programs, these properties will draw like-minded guests to share in the experience of giving back to local ecologies and residents.

Experience-based lodging. In exchange for smaller rooms, these properties will cater to younger, more active travelers with larger, well-designed common areas and events within the hotel to encourage interaction and socializing among guests.

Unique services.Many boutique hotels may be too small to deliver the services of a traditional four- or five-star property. Instead, they can compete with unexpected services, often delivered via staff who wear multiple hats to keep costs down.

Beyond eclectic.Boutique hotels have achieved success by forgoing generic travel experiences in favor of contemporary, eclectic design elements. Maintaining a unique nature in a market increasingly filled with properties billing a one-of-a-kind experience will be the key challenge for the boutiques of the future.

What’s Next?

As boutique hotels continue to develop and promote their individual personalities and offerings, the next step may be exploring ways to match travelers to the hotel that fits their interests or style best. Many hotels have already created apps in which guests can check in and out, and create profiles indicating their background, interests, and reason for travel. Groups of boutique hotels could leverage this at a larger scale, joining together to create a network in which travelers select their destination, lifestyle, and desired activities to easily find the hotel that is right for them.

Learn More


Tom Ito, Darlene Urgola Brown, Stephanie Oca, Noga Smerkowitz, Carolina Tombolesi, Elizabeth Wendell, Kelly Wong

Year Completed