7 Boutique Hotel Brands to Watch
Something is happening in the hotel world. Legacy brands like Starwood, Hyatt, and Marriott are diving into the boutique game, launching offshoot mini-chains that fulfill the niche lifestyle interests of a new generation of travelers—ones that crave curation, tech amenities, and picture-worthy surroundings. These brands signal a new era for the hospitality game, one that leans heavily on style and service. That they are often affordable and fall under their umbrella brand’s guest loyalty programs make them all the more appealing. From Canopy by Hilton to Marriott's Moxy, these are the boutique brands worth booking now.
Jen has been a staff editor at Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Afar, and Elle Decor. When she's not snowmobiling in the French Alps or tasting scotch straight from the barrel in Scotland, she's at home in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
In 1998, the branding geniuses at Starwood Hotels & Resorts launched a new concept in the form of the W New York, a high-end boutique hotel with an identity far more edgy—and completely distinct—from its larger corporate portfolio of properties. At the time, it was a risk that many critics derided as bad business: industry insiders believed that when it came to booking rooms, customers favored familiarity and predictability over uniqueness, and a property that couldn’t cash in on its name recognition would hurt the bottom line. But the idea proved revolutionary. Nearly 20 years later, W Hotels is one of the most successful brands in the hospitality industry.
In recent years, historic hotel chains have followed the Starwood model, introducing their own boutique collection with exceptional branding. But the openings of these hotels have hinged not just on the establishment of a unique identity in terms of style and feel, but also the acknowledgement that travelers are not monolithic in their needs. Each brand has made a targeted shift to cater to guests’ specific lifestyles, from tech-savvy millennials to health-conscious aesthetes.
Take Moxy, Marriott’s hip younger sister. While the parent company made a splash in 2008 with Edition, a stylish collaboration with Ian Schrager at the design helm, Moxy is its alter ego—a neon fever dream whose communal spaces and giant video installations appeal to Generation Y and those who prefer the informality of a hostel over the stuffy luxury of a five-star hotel. (Can you think of another brand that would feature a web series starring You Tube personality Taryn Southern on its website?) While guests enjoy many traditional amenities, the focus here is on tech: little-used closets have been removed to make way for larger televisions, while the lightning-fast WiFi allows visitors to stream their favorite shows with just the click of a button. The brand has already taken Milan, New Orleans, and Berlin by storm, with locations in NYC, Oslo, and San Diego on the horizon.
For Hyatt’s new Hyatt Centric outposts, everything from the furniture to the food offer hyper-local takes on their particular destination. Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach, for example, incorporates contemporary Hawaiian design like wood and rattan and hosts cultural events like hula dancing and lei-making five days a week. Even the architecture hews to the concept: Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara is a characteristic Spanish Colonial–style building with a terra cotta tiled roof; Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago is housed in a refurbished 1920s Art Deco tower. Above all, the brand is geared towards “modern explorers”—people who want to experience a location physically rather than virtually. This kind of approach to authenticity is even more pronounced in Hilton’s first branch of Canopy by Hilton, in Reykjavík, where each member of the staff is trained to act as an informal concierge, pointing guests to must-see hidden gems and off-the-beaten-tourist-path neighborhood haunts. The ethos is similar as well for Canopy’s sister brand Curio by Hilton, a collection of independent four- and five-star boutique properties that retain their unique regional identities while still granting guests access to Hilton’s loyalty programs.
Digitally savvy travelers will appreciate the perks of a stay with Tryp by Wyndham. The brand’s Manhattan outpost has its own social network called LobbyFriend, which encourages guests to connect virtually, then meet in person at its on-site tapas bar. Even the website’s corporate language has been finely calibrated to seduce millennials. “When you return from owning the city,” is a phrase that has never been written on a Wyndham Hotels website until now. Whats more, its four different room types help customize your stay: family rooms can sleep up to eight people thanks to a bevy of bunk beds, while fitness rooms are outfitted with your choice of elliptical machine, treadmill, or exercise bike.
InterContinental’s Even Hotels takes that wellness idea to the nth degree with its holistic program for health-obsessed travelers. Organic bath products and cooling eucalyptus bedding meant to encourage deeper sleep is just the beginning. In-room yoga mats and cork flooring in the guest rooms, plus a digital library of streaming exercise videos led by on-staff trainers, allow you to work out in privacy and at your own pace (there’s also a fitness studio for more extroverted types). In the lobby, made-to-order smoothies and takeaway meals made with organic ingredients make it easy to maintain your diet while exploring the sights.
Not to be outdone, Starwood is back at it with 1 Hotels, an eco-conscious mini-chain that aims to promote sustainability without sacrificing luxury and design. With their airy room layouts and nature-inspired aesthetic (1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, the brand’s newest addition, features a hulking living wall in the lobby), the properties embrace everything from organic food to next-level water filtration to furniture made from recycled materials. With them, this boutique brand—and its parent company—are changing the hospitality game once more. And we can’t wait to see what’s next.
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