Are Boutique Hotels Ready for Meetings?

A rooftop pool that morphs into a dance floor at night. A lounge that hides behind an open-sesame bookshelf. A lobby that’s more like a living room. Boutique hotels have always employed design to create unique experiences for guests. Now, more of those guests are corporate groups.

Some say the boutique boom got its start in 1984 when hipster Ian Schrager (of Studio 54 fame) and partner Steve Rubel opened the quirky, eclectic Morgans Hotel in Manhattan, followed by the Royalton and the Delano. Others say Bill Kimpton of Kimpton Hotels pioneered American boutiques in 1981 with the Bedford Hotel in San Francisco.

One thing is clear: Once the major chains got into the game with boutique and “lifestyle” brands— Starwood’s W, Hyatt’s Andaz, InterContinental’s Indigo—the category took off. While they account for just 2.8 percent of hotel rooms in the U.S., boutiques are now the fastest-growing lodging segment, expanding by 14 percent in 2009 and 10 percent in 2010, according to Lodging Econometrics. Marriott International was slow to jump in, but three years ago the conservative, tried-and-true hospitality company announced a partnership with Schrager, the King of Cool, to create the Edition brand.

Following the February debut of the second Edition (a 78-room property in Istanbul, the first having opened last fall in Waikiki with 353 rooms), we caught up with Edition’s Managing Director Dan Flannery to ask him how corporate meetings fit into the mix.

Why did Marriott decide to develop a boutique brand?
We looked across the segment and we didn’t see anyone with a global brand succeeding at delivering a unique, four-star experience. A lot of boutique hotels simply fall short on service.

How much does meeting business factor in the market mix and design of your hotels?
Meeting space varies by property and by location but it is integral to each Edition’s design. The Hawaii hotel has a 9,700-square-foot ballroom. There’s also some very creative meeting space, like the eight-inch wading pool for barefoot cocktail receptions. At the Istanbul Edition, there are five meeting studios, a high-tech screening room and a plush drawing room that would be perfect for certain events.

Much press was given to the unlikely pairing of Marriott and Ian Schrager. How is it working out?
It’s working out really well. Ian is a fascinating guy. He sees things that other people don’t. For instance, all our public space has a day look and a night look. By day, it’s a pool area with beautiful teak chaise lounges [at the Wakiki Edition], by night, the lounge chairs fold flat into mattresses. He gets the value of group business and is a genius with design strategy for group spaces.

Can planners who book a lot of Marriott business leverage that with Edition?
It’s a separate brand, but of course still part of all the Marriott programs, like point incentives. And there’s value to having a strong relationship with your Marriott sales person. I would say that whatever would apply to Ritz Carlton [another Marriott brand] would be the same for Edition.

What can you say that would show that Edition properties understand how to service meetings and incentives once they get in-house?
Eighty percent of the trainers for the event staff in Hawaii came from Ritz-Carlton. The director of events is from a Ritz-Carlton property, and so is the banquet chef. There’s a deep passion and commitment to event management.

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