Cosy and classy packages to please the discerning visitor
BOUTIQUE HOTELS HAVE been a trend in the hospitality industry in Europe and North America for years. This type of hotel development may not be the easiest of business ventures for a hotel operator, but it does give the owner all the flexibility he or she needs to create the desired look and feel, without the constraints and standards imposed by a hotel group.
The boutique hotel is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Hong Kong, but the numbers are rising as entrepreneurs leverage on the high volume of visitors coming to the city for business and pleasure.
Hong Kong's attractions as a finance centre and a tourist destination are many. Add to that the city's powerful status as a gateway to China.
Government figures show there were more than 16 million visitors in 2002, and more than 25 million last year, an increase of more than 40 per cent in three years. Mainlanders represented the biggest proportion of visitors, accounting for over 53 per cent of total visitor numbers last year.
While the majority of mainland travellers pick basic hotels for their stay, many of China's nouveau-riche tourists are joining the business traveller and staying at boutique hotels.
'Our hotel guests are not just looking for a cosy place to stay, but also good memories of where they stayed,' said Barry Polson, director of special projects at JIA Hong Kong, in Causeway Bay.
'Boutique hotels project strong interior design concepts and the furniture is usually aesthetically pleasing and produced by world- famous designers.
'As long as China maintains its momentum of economic growth and the global economy remains healthy, boutique hotels in Hong Kong will continue to be in demand, and hotel investors will tend to think that this is a strategic investment with excellent returns,' Mr Polson said.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting the difference between a five-star hotel and a boutique hotel in terms of room numbers.
'By definition, any hotel that is under 200 rooms is considered a boutique hotel, but there are some in town that run in the vicinity of 70 rooms,' said John Chan Chun-ho, design director at John Chan Design.
Boutique hotels may not be as big in numbers as the mainstream hotels, but they can be big in terms of services offered.
'It is a lot easier for a boutique hotel operator to offer a much more personalised service, with guests receiving immediate attention, because of the higher staff-to-guest ratio,' said John Hui Kin-yip, managing director of The Fleming Hong Kong Hotel, in Fleming Road, Wan Chai.
One common characteristic of boutique hotels is that they tend to be centrally located, and while they may not all have the eye-catching facades of some of the international hotel chains, they do tend to boast superior interior decor.
'Larger hotel groups maintain a standard throughout the brand that sometimes constricts what they can do, but boutique hotels are never confined to these restrictions, and that's why a boutique hotel is generally one of a kind in many design aspects,' said Allan Strahle, a veteran in the boutique hotel industry.
Those keen to work in the hospitality industry may find a boutique hotel a good place to start.
Because this is a 100 per cent people business, a strong interest in the service industry is expected.
'As more boutique hotels come up, lots more people will be needed by the industry to fill the vacancies,' Mr Hui said.
'Applicants for jobs at boutique hotels should possess good interpersonal skills and take a genuine pleasure in meeting people,' Mr Hui said.
'Of course, the experienced ones will find themselves going into more senior positions,' he added.
The future for boutique hotels in Hong Kong is bright now that the industry has defined its niche market with its target clients.
'I think we will continue to see a growing trend towards boutique hotels in Hong Kong,' said industry veteran Mr Strahle.
'This is a densely populated city and there are countless fascinating buildings just waiting to be snapped up and developed into something really fabulous. People are always keen to try something new and unique.'