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boutique hotels

How Boutique Hotels Win vs. Big Box Brands

July 12, 2016


In today’s world, where travelers are willing to invest in whatever is remarkably authentic and local, boutique hotels are coming out on top.

Comfortable tried-and-true hotel experiences offered by the world’s largest brands aren’t as appealing as they once were. Nor is their generic décor (meant to appease all tastes), predictable amenities, or restaurant menu of American “favorites.” In fact, those familiar big brand experiences are now seen as mundane, and travelers (including business and “bleisure” travelers) are more than eager to break out of the boring.

Travelers want to be immersed in the destination. They want to do, see, savor and explore everything that makes your region amazing, unique and unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. This is what makes their travels meaningful, memorable and worth bragging about.

Now’s the time to get creative and get bold in how you connect your guests to your destination. Here are some of our suggestions to transform your hotel into a genuine destination experience focused on the people, food, and local culture that define your region:

1. Gather All the Local and Cool Experiences In One Place

Authentic experiences usually fall in these major categories:

  • Interacting and tasting the local food and drink, including farmer’s market visits, tastings, restaurant tours and cooking classes with local chefs.
  • One-on-one, personal interactions with local residents.
  • Visits to off-the-beaten path places or activities that usually only locals know about, instead of overcrowded and already-famous tourist attractions.

Take stock of all the offerings in your region, including those who you can partner with for experiential packages and promotions, such as a family-run vineyard or a mom-and-pop-owned niche tour company.

Promote these local experiences on your hotel website, instead of the major attractions that are already heavily advertised by every other hotel in your city. Write blog posts about each one, tout them on social media and educate your staff (not just the concierge team) about these. Stop over-promoting your property and start celebrating your destination.

2. Go Hyper Local: Focus on Small Amazing Moments Nearby

Whatever neighborhood your hotel is located in, own it. Too often we see hotel staff recommending whatever is the well-worn path and least likely to offer a bad experience – even if it requires a cab ride – instead of suggesting something within walking distance. We can see the virtue in only telling your guests about what’s most stable, but today’s travelers are bolder and more willing to get out there for the sake of adventure.

So, if a guest asks for a recommendation on where to grab some coffee, don’t simply usher them to Starbucks. Instead, point out your favorite locally owned coffee shop that serves your favorite concoction. Instead of suggesting the tried-and-true restaurant that offers commissions to your concierges, give guests the names of a couple hole-in-the-wall eateries that the locals swear by.

3. Invite Locals and Guests to Mix and Mingle

Don’t fret if your hotel doesn’t offer crystal chandeliers, premium Egyptian cotton sheets or custom-built furniture. A majority of today’s travelers look past these frills for something more appealing – community building. Guests want to feel as if they’re part of the local community and landscape. 

Some visionary boutique brands have already started capitalizing on this by turning their lobbies into gathering spaces for locals and guests alike, such as the Ace Portland and Ace New York. Instead of leaving their lobby simply as a place to pass through, they created opportunities for co-working via large community tables and lounge-like spaces for people to hang out for drawn-out discussions. Plus, they hold events that are open both to guests and the public. Other brands have created rooftop bars that locals flock to or playrooms, such as Hotel Zetta’s in San Francisco, where locals and guests can get together to play larger-than-life Plinko or Nintendo Wii.

4. Get Real About “Personal Service”

The term “personal service” used to be an overused cliché that hotels and every other customer-driven business would throw around, but not really commit to. Guests want a personal connection to your hotel, not just an empty suggestion to “ask anyone at the front desk and they should be able to help you!” Prior to visits, consider new marketing automation and hotel CRM tools that reach out to each guest via email, signed by an actual member of your staff with a direct email/telephone number to contact them in case of any questions.

Similar new tech tools enable you to text guests after check-in to make sure everything is okay and remind guests that they can text any requests personally to them at any time. Have staff update guest profiles as much as they can with personal preferences they catch on to. Greet guests by their first names (Mr. and Mrs. is much too formal, and sounds awkward and stiff). Remember, to your guests, YOU are the local, so make them feel like treasured friends with every opportunity. 

 About Tambourine

Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 33rd year, is located in New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Please visit:


Why Are More Owners Choosing Independence Over Brands?

March 22, 2016


Independent hotels are riding a peak of prosperity. A recent Lodging Magazine article by STR showed that independent properties were universally outpacing their brand competitors in 2015.

Although the majority of the country’s lodging industry is dominated by well-known chains, independents are attracting more and more travelers who want remarkable, locally-inspired and authentic experiences. And, travelers aren’t the only ones who are favoring unbranded hotels. Owners and investors are showing an increased interest in boutique properties and independent hotels.

We chatted with Patrick Goddard, President and COO of Trust Hospitality, whose extensive hospitality management portfolio includes boutique gem, Hotel Mela in New York City and the new luxury stunner, Zemi Beach in Anguilla, to find out why independent hotels are such appealing assets for owners:

1. Cost Savings, Less Hurdles

The value proposition of independent properties is undoubtedly alluring. Owners will find more nimble operations, lower management fees and more flexible contract terms. “Generally, independents can be executed for less money and with less roadblocks,” Goddard said. “However, it is dependent on the target demographic, the market and the composition of the supply. Plus, owners will have more flexible sale options that are unencumbered by a brand or franchise contract.”

2. Freedom and Flexibility

Owners and operators of boutique hotels have control and freedom to think outside the box, test different tools and exercise creative solutions. “Independent hotels are more fun, cheaper and allow you more flexibility,” Goddard states. “However, it makes management more complex and there is more ‘grey’, instead of black and white.” In comparison, chains are easier to manage because your success relies on following a manual that has already been tested and proven.

3. The Customized Approach

Rather than cookie-cutter templates that franchisees are beholden to, independent properties rely on strategies and plans custom-tailored to their specific property, market and destination. “Hospitality is still both art and science. Just because independent hotels have more interesting art, doesn’t mean we ignore the science,” Goddard pointed out. “In fact the science of independents is more disciplined because much of it needs to be rewritten for each hotel, versus following a template.” This personalized approach is well received by modern travelers, who prefer unconventional experiences over those that are mass-produced.

4. Lifestyle Experience versus Loyalty Programs

One of the major differences between franchise and independent properties is that chains have large sales and distribution systems, and coveted loyalty programs, which undoubtedly give chains an edge depending on the positioning, location and product. Without those in place, boutique brands instead have to put their efforts in creating a provocative brand and lifestyle. Goddard calls it “a holistic process involving interior design, F&B concepts, entertainment, music, and integration of the community.” It’s that distinct brand and lifestyle that creates demand, combined with innovative marketing campaigns. The good news for independent owners is that their marketing budget actually goes towards their own hotel, compared to big brands, whose owners pay hefty fees to finance the marketing of the overall chain.

5. Profits Are Driven by Product Perception

Goddard explains that in the end, the perception of your boutique hotel will drive its rate and its success. “Today’s traveler values product perception very highly and will pay a premium for a well-planned hotel with a well-articulated brand strategy and story.” If a hotel’s story is well told, executed creatively, and shared widely, it can “achieve higher than market rate over its comp set.” While chain hotels often have more resources for marketing implementation and outreach, they usually face an uphill battle in trying to stand out in a crowded “sea of sameness.”

As traveler preferences have progressed over the last several years, guests are showing their desire for boutique hotels and local experiences, while revealing a declining interest in reliable and predictable experiences associated with “big box” chains. Rather than investing in a major branded hotel, owners are turning to boutique and independent properties as profitable assets that deliver more control, less contractual hassles, more of an ability to express themselves and often, more ROI.

About Tambourine

Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 33rd year, is located in New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Please visit:

Four Things Hotel Owners Want From Their Asset/Management Teams

June 22, 2015

It’s the single, most weighted decision hotel owners have to make that will determine their property’s ultimate fate.

Choosing a hotel and asset management company is no small task, as the impact of your decision can mean your hotel will either bustle with guests and high revenues or languish miserably with empty hallways and a pile of expenses.

We know what we all want from our hospitality assets – long-term competitive advantage, consistent market growth, higher-than-average revenue generation and sound cash flow. But how do you get there?


Jamie Adams, Vice President at the Carlyle Group

We sat down with Jamie Adams, Vice President at the Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset manager, who specializes in asset management and held previous stints at Marriott and Homestead Suites. He shared his insight on what hotel owners should look for when choosing a profitability partner to manage their hospitality assets. He also weighs in on the never-ending topic – go with a brand or fly independent?

Top Four Criteria Your Hotel and Asset Manager Should Meet

1. Experience in your geographic market

“Big benefits come from local knowledge,” Jamie said. Look for a management company that already has experience working in your locality. They’ll know the market, the destination’s strengths and weaknesses, your competitors, and ebb and flow of travel to the area, he explained. They can also better anticipate slow cycles and are better equipped to hire the right on-site team to maximize your profitability.

2. Staffing tendencies

“What are they doing at other properties? Are they staffing too heavy? Are they staffing too light?,” Jamie said. “Labor will be your biggest cost, so look out for management companies who tend to over-staff properties.” Look for a management property that hires just the right amount of people for the amount of guests the hotel attracts. Don’t sway too light, or that means your guest experience will suffer. Jamie explains that when he narrows down his own search for local hotel management companies, he checks their hiring habits based on their P&L’s. “Managers should be savvy enough that they can look at a property and already know how to run it,” he said.

3. Potential margins

“The most important factor to look for is the kind of margins they’re capable of running at their other properties,” said Jamie. Are they running efficiently? Do they have too many managers? You’ll be able to spot these immediately in P&L’s. Margins at 25 to 45 percent are optimal, Jamie said, but this can vary. Nonetheless, you should benchmark with other hotels.

Read: 6 Sales and Marketing Metrics Every Hotel Owner Cares About

4. Amount of hands-on attention from senior team

Look for the amount of support the regional and corporate team will invest in you. Oftentimes, the larger management companies will have so many properties, they won’t offer a lot of personalized attention. “The regional manager could have 11 hotels to oversee,” Jamie said. “So, they’re spread pretty thin.”

Go With a Brand or Go Boutique?

“In most major markets, signing on with a easily recognized brand can bring you the best chance of success,” Jamie said. You’ll have immediate access to reservations systems and loyalty programs. “I liken it to opening a spigot,” he said.

However, big brands mean bigger costs to pay, including reservation fees, royalty fees and a set of stringent rules to follow. Plus, the fees will promote the brand, not your individual property. So, you’ll have to invest even more in direct hotel internet marketing.

If you decide to go boutique or stay independent, you’ll have significantly lower costs and a lot more flexibility. However, you need to invest in smart hotel technology, plus marketing and branding strategies to command traveler recognition and drive reservations. Jamie adds that in some markets that people are traveling to anyway, such as South Beach or San Francisco, boutique hotels can fare off a lot more successfully than big brand properties.

“When deciding between going under a brand flag or independent, weigh the incremental cost versus the value a brand could add,” Jamie advises. “How many rooms is it going to generate? Is the ADR going to be higher versus a boutique hotel?”

About Tambourine

Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 33rd year, is located in New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Please visit:

Surprise! 10 ways your hotel website is killing your business. Part 1

February 10, 2014


Surprise! Your Hotel Website may be Killing Your BusinessThink your website is “good enough?” Think again…

Would you buy three-year-old TVs for your rooms?

How about cheap lobby furniture that no one wanted to sit on?

If 1,000 people came into your store and 999 walked out without buying anything, would you rethink your merchandising?

The answers to these questions are obvious. But as strange as it may seem, some hoteliers remain blissfully unaware of their website’s negative impact on revenue.

And it’s a big problem: depending on the targeted ratio of group vs leisure bookings, the typical independent or boutique hotel website could represent more than 50% of the property’s expected revenue production.

Yet, far too many hoteliers still serve up an inferior, antiquated experience to potential and repeat guests. Remember, virtually ALL of your website traffic INTENDS (they rarely stumble into it) to find your site through natural search, paid search or links from other related sites. Then, 99%+ of those highly relevant visitors leave without converting… what does this tell you about your hotel’s website as a vital business asset?

Here’s a quick list of ten ways your hotel website may be insufficient and underperforming:

  1. You treat every website visitor the same:   Business travelers expect and need different treatment than couples seeking a romantic weekend getaway. You don’t treat them in the same way when they are on-property, why treat them the same way when they arrive at your site? Simple new technology allows you to personalize the arrival experience and engage with the most relevant message and offer.
  2.  You treat every booking engine visitor the same:   Once a website visitor performs an availability search and enters your booking environment, it’s even more important to customize their experience. Based on their previous clickstream behavior and demographics, the booking environment should adapt to their profile… preventing reservation abandonment, increasing your conversion and raising your actual ADR. Tambourine’s booking engine making great strides in this area, check it out.
  3.  You’ve never actually watched a human test it:   Amazing things happen when you ask unbiased users (no, not your spouse!) to actually sit down and try using/booking on your site. Check out for cheap, demographically-relevant testers.
  4. Your pricing is confusing:   Ever been in the checkout line when the cashier has to go verify a price? Or been told that the coupon you want to use is no longer available? Or worse yet, you actually buy a product only to learn that it was cheaper at another store. Visitors to your online booking environment expect fast, simple, smooth transactions. Travel consumers will surf away from your site at the smallest hint of pricing friction, lack of price parity or complexity. Your revenue management team can have a deeply profound impact on your web team’s results… make sure the booking environment is carefully monitored and frequently tested!
  5. You have no SEO foundation:   Competing with the OTAs and your compset for high Google rankings is hard enough without handicapping yourself from the get-go by failing to build the site on a best-practices SEO foundation. Your link structure, site map and microdata need to be carefully reviewed and crafted by real SEO practitioners.

Thanks for reading Part 1 of this 2 part series. We hope it was informative. Next week, we’ll tackle the next five reasons your hotel website is killing your business.

About Tambourine

Tambourine drives revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide using advanced marketing technology. The firm is celebrating its 30-year anniversary. For more information, visit

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