Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and other high-profile brands are unlikely to go out of fashion in China, yet in the hotel industry, big brands no longer hold their cachet. Instead, preference toward understated, boutique luxury is emerging among the increasingly discerning Chinese travelers. According to Deloitte corporate finance partner Ronald Chao, Chinese attitudes are shifting away from brand hotels in favor of more unique experiences.
“In the past few years, there have been very significant changes in the characteristics of travelers. For instance, individuality and family orientation have become a trend,” Chao said. “Traditional five-star hotels may not entirely meet the requirements of more discerning guests.”
Brand-name hotels, like the popular Shangri-La, Hilton, and Ritz Carlton, have a series of standards—such as number of rooms and specified hotel area—that make each hotel look familiar to travelers. But for boutique hotels, anything goes. For hoteliers, this means greater flexibility and lower costs.
The individuality that comes from this flexibility has already caught the attention of travelers in first-tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing, where the market for boutique hotels is considered saturated. But in second-tier cities like Huangshan, Shaoxing, and Wuzhen, the market is still growing.
The flexibility of boutique hotels caters to the individuality that guests are beginning to seek, both with more personalized service and more striking surroundings.
Boutiques are often located in areas of historical or scenic significance.
Hangzhou Amafayun, a Hangzhou boutique, is located among tea fields and bamboo groves, and is surrounded by properties that date back to the 1800s.
In southeast Shaoxing, Dayu Kaiyuan blends its architecture with local features, its 100 unique guest rooms and private courtyards mimicking the style of Jiangnan-region houses.
Shifting attitudes are not the only reason boutique hotels are growing. In part, the market is growing because of real estate cost. This budget crunch has given hotels a chance to escape China’s brand obsession and risk original ventures such as boutique hotels.
“The boutique concept is attractive to developers because you can put so much of your ideas in there, but it won’t cost as much as building a skyscraper,” said Calvin Mak, CEO of Rhombus International Hotels Group
Individualized designs, size, and features are part of boutique hotels’ strategy to capture younger inbound travelers as well as to reach out to China’s wealthy with beautiful scenery, high-quality service, and that little dose of uniqueness that can’t be found in brands.
photo credit: hangzhou amafayun, dayu kaiyuan, laojieyuan jingpen