The lodging industry is one of the oldest businesses to exist in this world. It has been around ever since people started travelling from one place to the other for trade and other purposes. What began as the need of the hour (rest and shelter during long journeys) soon turned into an industry that offered comfort, convenience, even luxury, to their boarders. For example, The Greeks built thermal baths that allowed their guests to rest and recuperate. Romans constructed palatial mansions hotel for travelers, while Caravanserais along the famous Silk Road from Turkey to China offered shelter not just for men but also their beasts.
In the 21st century, hotels have evolved into a flourishing business that has become an inseparable part of the travel industry. The styles range from flamboyant properties to bare-bone youth hostels, and all-inclusive honeymoon resorts to quaint country inns.
However, as competition grew and hotels started offering standard services across the chain, there was need for something innovative in the market. People, tired of impersonal services, started moving towards smaller hotels that offered personalized attention and unique experiences.
And thus was born the darling of the hospitality industry – boutique hotels. Today, they are the most sought after stay option for leisure travellers and the ultimate name in exclusivity. More and more people are choosing to stay in boutique hotels, because they’re almost always guaranteed to have a good time and get great value for their money
Given the popularity they enjoy, it’s worthwhile taking a peek into the fascinating history of boutique hotels and trace their evolution over time.
History of Boutique Hotels
The earliest boutique hotels appeared in the early 1980s, the first two of them being The Blakes Hotel in South Kensington, London, and the Bedford in Union Square, San Francisco. The term ’boutique hotel’, though, appeared much later in 1984, coined by Steve Rubell. He compared his own establishment, Morgans Hotel, to a small boutique, obviously wishing to highlight its exclusivity and set it apart from other hotels that were cropping up everywhere, much like the monolithic department stores.
This is not to say that boutique hotels are a modern invention. There are plenty of documented instances of similar lodging experiences dating back to the 13th century when staging posts were set up for travellers in Mongolia and China.
Here are a few more examples of one-of-a-kind boutique hotels that were popular back in the days:
In 1705, César Ritz opened a boutique hotel at Place Vendôme, which earned him high praise from King Edward VII who called him “king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings”.
In 1822, Venitian artist Giuseppe Rubino transformed an old palace into a gorgeous hotel and called it “il Rubino”.
In 1880, the Sagamore Hotel on Lake George (in the state of New York) became the first to provide electricity in each of its guest rooms, creating no small stir among visitors in those times.
In 1900, Edouard Niiermans, known as the ‘architect of palaces’ transformed Emperor Napoléon III’s summer residence – Villa “Eugenie – into a beautiful and niche hotel.
In 1919, Barcelona inaugurated a stylish hotel that was equipped with hot and cold water in its bathrooms.
As you can see, there have been numerous occasions throughout the history of the lodging industry when hoteliers applied creativity and offered top-notch services to stay ahead of the competition and offer something extraordinary to their visitors.
Boutique Hotel of the 21st Century – Characteristics that Set It Apart
Today, the term ’boutique hotel’ is used to describe small establishments with around 150 rooms. They are privately owned, or part of a small group of hotels, and are best known for iconic, memorable and, at times, eccentric design themes. The concept of boutique hotels became a trend after hotelier Ian Schrager and French designer Philippe Starck used unique designs to build their hotels. And now, it has become a flourishing industry of its own, complete with unique traits and qualities.