What Exactly Is A Boutique Hotel?

what are boutique hotels

Every amazing prospective vacation is really only an amazing stay away. Once the award-winning hotel, hostel, condo, home, cabin, etc. is accounted for, the entire getaway starts to feel real. However, with such a diversified, complicated array of possible stays on the horizon, and an ever-growing portfolio of hotel categories, how are you ever supposed to select that individual room which best suits your intended vacationing style?

Such an important decision shouldn’t go to chance. In fact, if you’re anything like the hundreds of thousands of satisfied guests who have recently added their testimonies to the growing majority, boutique hotels, more than ever before, represent the ideal vacationing option with regard to price points, location, and furnishings.

What is a boutique hotel?

Alp Pasa Boutique Hotel
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Creator:Ali Akçakaya used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Given the fact that this specific subcategory of winning hotel exists within a specific niche, even those individuals who routinely enjoy the services of a local or international boutique hotel may understand little as to the type of hotel in which they spend their time. As such, boutique hotels can be understood as the following: an intimately-sized hotel space, sporting compact size and enormous personality, modern and eccentric in look and feel, and boasting a personalized experience. Often, boutique hotels are independently operated, although more and more, larger hotel chains are attempting (and succeeding) in dipping their toes into the boutique hotel space.

Allow us to outline exactly what each of these unique characteristics allow a boutique hotel to bring to the table, and additionally, why each defining characteristic of a boutique hotel succeeds in effectively setting it apart from a hotel room of the standard, metropolitan variety.


You’ll find that the majority of boutique hotels are smaller in size, and by definition, more homey in nature. Their more intimate construction allows for a less rigid structure; furthermore, their smaller size allows for less of a “cookie-cutter” appearance, and more of a customized architectural design, perhaps something that is more easily identifiable from the road.

In general, most boutique hotels’ smaller size call for less than one hundred rooms per location; if a boutique hotel exceeds one hundred total rooms, it won’t be by much. Their smaller size is what essentially allows them to cater individually to each and every guest. If it’s small enough to appear cozy but large enough to appear as though it acts as a functioning hotel, you’re likely staring at a boutique!

Why would you seek out a hotel of a petite size? For the service which accompanies it, of course! When it comes to boutique hotels, one of the signs of more personalized, hands-on service is the smaller venue space. A smaller hotel has more time to wine and dine each and every guest, and as a result, you’re likely going to be treated to a stay of more depth, more class, and as you’ll see in the next characteristic, more personality.

Personality despite size

The sheer personality of the location should always be enough to make you quickly forget just how small of a location you’re dealing with. In other words, a boutique hotel may be small, but it packs a large punch with regard to its feel. Upon arrival, and especially upon entering the boutique hotel itself, you should find yourself immediately immersed in the overall vibe of the location; that means wall furnishings, decorations, paintings, wall coloration, furniture, and anything and everything else that contributes to the general ambiance of the space should deliver in a big way.

Furthermore, no matter how eclectic the hotel is, each and every item that contributes to the hotel’s rich environment should also contribute to an overall theme. In other words, if you should arrive at a boutique hotel and enter though the lobby, every item, or at least most items, in that lobby should represent some major theme or idea. Whether that’s a cat-themed location, a boutique hotel dedicated to reliving the 1960s, or an indoor testament to the sunken Titanic, the ambiance should direct you toward some type of uniform feel, theme, or at least a dominant emotion.

Why is personality considered an upgrade over the traditional hotels? We’re banking on the fact that if you’re anything like most other travelers, you’re looking for at least a little personality in your day. You’re looking for an excuse to fall in love with your hotel, and the unique personality of each and every boutique hotel is an excellent way to do just that. Additionally, with a brighter personality likely comes more fun, on your part, and on the part of the hotel itself. If the boutique hotel features a dominant personality, it’s likely well-primed to deliver an award-winning experience in a big way.

Modern, yet eccentric

This characteristic has done well to establish the boutique hotel as its own entity in the hospitality industry. A hotel of a major brand could very well exhibit a more petite size, and could even boast a dynamic, adventurous theme. However, the ability of a boutique hotel to exist as modern, yet at the same time sport authentic eccentricity, easily sets it apart from the majority of other hotels.

Boutique hotels are set apart through this riding of the fine line between modern and eccentric, in that there are close to no other hotels which will take it upon themselves to deviate this far from the proven success model for a hotel. In other words, those who establish boutique hotels well understand the niche into which they are growing, and will construct a hotel which could exist as downright wacky, at the full risk of actually losing clientele. Granted, this risk is quickly minimized by the fact that many travelers will actually seek out boutique hotels, and boutique hotels only, when seeking out a stay in a region. Still, the capacity to construct a hotel that feels contemporary, while at the same time deviating a sufficient amount from that which is considered “normal” in the hotel space, in favor of that which is otherwise considered “eccentric”, is indicative of a big leap.

So in practical terms, what does this deviation look like? This type of unique atmosphere is best demonstrated via examples. Again, what hotel-goers are looking for is a boutique hotel which exists as modern, yet at the same time, qualifies as eccentric, as far out. Take, for example, the Monastero Santa Rosa. Delicately tucked along Italy’s Amalfi coastline, this certifiable boutique hotel is actually only twenty rooms large. It easily qualifies as modern, given the interior’s contemporary furnishings, and brilliant lighting. However, the hotel itself once functioned as a 17th-century monastery, and much of the original architecture, as well as the original furnishings, still remain. This element of eccentricity is exactly the type of wackiness which typifies boutique hotels of the sort.

Why, then, is this considered an upgrade over the traditional hotel? Again, one must consider the target demographic. Given that boutique hotels are marketed toward those seeking a little more personality during their next stay, the modern, yet simultaneously eccentric feel of many of these hotels, allows hotel-goers to enjoy the unique adventure that awaits them. Better yet, prospective travelers understand that from the moment they set foot upon a boutique hotel, they have a story worth telling friends and family. No matter what sets the hotel apart, boutique hotel guests are provided with a reason to take the stage upon the imminent question set to befall them upon return to “real life”: “How was the hotel?”

A completely personalized experience

It’s been hinted at before, but what does this “personalized” experience really look like? In other words, how is a guest at a boutique hotel treated differently from a guest of a major hospitality chain? The answer lies fully in the specifics.

The main pull of a boutique hotel is the ideology that this specific hotel is truly one-of-a-kind, that there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. That individualized nature extends not just to furnishings, not just to the environment, but also to the type of treatment that you can come to expect from a boutique hotel. Specifically, guests are encouraged to locate a boutique hotel that caters best to their individual preferences, so that the location itself can organically augment their vacation. A lover of adventure allowing himself or herself the chance to stay in a cave room, at the Kelebek Special Cave Hotel in Turkey? That’s what we call personalized service.

Additionally, boutique hotels often allow for personalized service in the allowance of privileges which, at other hotels, would be outlawed. Looking for late check out times? The Glendalia Boutique Hotel in Cincinnati, OH offers a bed-and-breakfast option to die for. Or how about the Las Alamandas hotel in Costalegre, Mexico, which features a stable for your horse? For distinctive amenities that you’re only going to find at smaller, customized hotels which specialize in above-and-beyond, intensive service, try a boutique hotel on for size.

Other identifying characteristics

These features are only some of the most easily identifiable features of boutique hotels. Other features of a staple boutique hotel include a specific focus on quality food and beverage offerings. The Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine boutique hotel in Spain’s Ribera del Duero is one such example of a getaway with this focus: the location allows guests of its 30-room property to sample some of the finest wines on the face of the planet, straight from local vineyards, while they simultaneously sample Michelin-style bistro, and top-tier meals crafted from some of the world’s finest chefs. The Graycliff, once a pirate mansion, now a boutique hotel, is another fabulous example of a boutique hotel’s characteristic focus on the food and beverage industry; locals in the Bahamas region understand the property to house the country’s finest restaurant!

Boutique hotels are also known for a bold, oftentimes deviant display of a specific architectural medium, usually one originally characteristic of a time period or historic movement. In other words, a solid boutique hotel will often demonstrate some of the identifying features of a dominant time period, and often, the architect of said boutique hotel will intentionally allow the property to display characteristics of a time period different than the one in which the hotel itself was constructed. For instance, one such timely example of a boutique hotel exists in the capitol of the United States. In Washington, D.C., the Jefferson boutique hotel stands as not only a majestic testament to the past president; its interiors are also richly decorated with several authentic french furniture pieces, a tribute to the third president’s unique tastes. Furthermore, the hotel also contains quite an impressive number of Madeira wine bottles, of which Jefferson himself was fond. Another such example of this type of historic recognition is present at the Auberge St-Antoine, a boutique hotel in Quebec City, Canada, that actually contains artefacts only discovered when construction of the hotel began, thereby allowing the hotel itself to tell the story of its own inception.

A unique elegance

Morgan House Kalimpong
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Subhrajyoti07 used under CC0

Boutique hotels truly do represent a unique facet of the hospitality industry, as a flavor of hotel which allows its guests to experience new heights. With regard to the personality of the stay itself, as well as the expected and delivered customization of a stay at any boutique location, boutique hotels are quickly catching the sights of an increasingly large demographic of the American (and the international) population, individuals who are fast-trading in their reserved beds in larger, corporate hotel chains for the opportunity to experience life through the new, more intimately shaped lenses of boutique hotel mastery. Whether it’s the unique capacity to keep your horse onsite at a boutique hotel in Mexico, or the ability to pay tribute to one of America’s finest presidents in Washington, D.C., the boutique hotel represents the very definition of elegance: a unique hotel, for the unique individual.

Why would you dare to select a boutique hotel, from the uncharted waters of those hotels who deviate from the norm of contemporary standards for hospitality? For exactly that reason: boutique hotels allow you to enjoy hospitality as you’d like it, without the standards of the industry hanging over your head. It’s a freeing experience, for the freed individual.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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John Gallagher is a digital marketing consultant and writer from San Diego, California. When he isn't thoroughly enjoying the writing process or pretending he thoroughly enjoys the revision...Read more

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