09 July 2015

The Boutique Hotel Experience

As I have already previously mentioned here, I was on a business trip to Thessaloniki a few months ago. Since it is a business trip, I typically don't stay in budget accommodations like hostels, and instead go for a pricier option. Not that I am going for luxury, but rather, I am just going for the rates that the German laws allow. And sometimes, it allows for stays in boutique hotels.

See, I never knew what a boutique hotel was. Until when I stayed in one in Thessaloniki. The hotel I stayed in was located in a nice restored building in a historic district, and only had 12 rooms. The hotel had a motif, and the designs were synchronized. It was definitely not just a place to sleep, but a whole experience.

This made me reflect on the fact that sometimes, smaller is better. There are massive hotels that have hundreds of rooms. I have stayed in those as well. Sometimes, these are hotels that are catering for the business traveler, and you'll see people in suits in the lobby and limousines parked up front. I've stayed in a few of those. And there are also these hotels that are also massive, but cater to the package holiday crowd. Most of the people are coming in large groups, and they arrive in big buses. I have stayed (as an individual traveler) in those hotels as well. And somehow, there is a common impression I get when I am in those hotels that I don't get in a boutique hotel.

See, in massive hotels like those, the traveler is not an individual. The traveler is just one of many people in the tour group, or one of many people wearing suits that day. Service is not personalized. The staff doesn't know you, because it is impractical to do so. The staff needs to be efficient, so there is no time to make small talk and chit chat. There is no time for the staff to recommend you her favorite restaurant in the neighborhood. Nothing like this, because all the staff needs to do is to process you and keep you moving on.

I find the contrast very stark: in package hotels (I stayed in one in Bethlehem, as well as in Malta), the staff doesn't see a person. Instead, they see a tour group. The unit of interaction is the tour group. So when the random individual guest like me comes in, there is a weird disconnect. And in the business hotels, they try to be as professional as possible. This however translates to being cold and impersonal.

So yeah, I think I am a fan of the boutique hotel. It's a great experience, and definitely makes a stay in a foreign city more interesting.

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