Business and leisure travellers are increasingly looking for properties and experiences that are noticeably different in look and feel from branded hotels TYPICALLY SMALLER and more intimate than standard hotels, boutique hotels offer an alternative hospitality experience without any loss of service. Hong Kong has lagged behind Europe and the United States behind when it comes to developing boutique hotels. That is, until recently. Since their opening, JIA Hotel and Apartments in Causeway Bay and The Minden, on Minden Avenue in Tsim Sha Tsui, have proved a hit with both leisure travellers and business people who spend their lives on the go. 'Travellers nowadays, both business and leisure, expect more than simply comfort and convenience,' said Barry Polson, general manager of the Philippe Starck designed JIA Hotel. 'An increasing number of travellers prefer to be 'surprised' - positively, needless to say.' He said JIA, which means 'home' in Mandarin, was proving that the boutique hotel experience was not something just for the rich. 'It is permeating all different price points. When planning trips, travellers are increasingly looking for properties and experiences that are noticeably different in look and feel from branded hotels,' Mr Polson said. The JIA management believes it distinguishes itself from standardised hotels through the closer connection that hotel guests experience with members of staff. 'Small hotels have small lobbies and guests are always walking past. It is easier for our staff to remember guest names than in a large-scale hotel operation,' he said. Rather than follow many hotel operations, which employ several members of staff to look after each guest, JIA has 23 hotel employees, not counting restaurant staff. These look after 57 rooms - 30 studios, 25 units and two penthouses. The style of service is designed to be less formal than larger hotel operations. 'Our style of service is not to be intrusive but to let the guest dictate the experience,' Mr Polson said. For example, guests can choose when they want to have their rooms cleaned. Staff are encouraged to learn about the local area so they can advise guests on where to eat and shop. During job interviews Mr Polson looks for a happy and outgoing demeanour. 'If I enjoy the conversation with the prospective employee I can be reasonably certain guests will enjoy meeting the same person too,' he explained. Robert Wang, the developer behind the 61-room Minden, said the business had been able to attract the type of staff it was looking for. 'Despite the competition from other new start-up hotels in Hong Kong, we have been fortunate. In key areas we have been able to hire the type of people we are looking for,' Mr Wang said.