Travel / Meetings / Conferencing / Events
Should boutique hotels be considered for MICE?
10 Nov 2017 - by Liesl Venter
Boutique hotels are a relatively new concept in the hospitality sector, not to mention the MICE industry. Yet these small and intimate venues offer a real opportunity to break from corporate uniformity. Liesl Venter finds out why corporates should consider boutique hotels more for conferences, meetings and events.
There is something to be said for using a brand one knows. This is especially true in the MICE sector, where room for error, more often than not, is zero.
Boutique hotels offer the same comfort, value, dependability and quality than larger hotel chains, but are often overlooked as viable options.
Experts say this is because most boutique hotels don’t see themselves playing in the same space as the bigger hotel chains and conference venues. Focusing on the selling of guest rooms probably seems far more appropriate and profitable than the conference and meeting sector, especially in light of the size of these establishments.
By definition, boutique hotels are small and intimate. They are typically independently operated, have between ten and 100 rooms and, while personalised service is high, general service offerings can be limited.
Boardrooms and meeting facilities were, for a long time, not that common in the boutique sector, although this is fast changing.
“It is possibly two-fold,” says Helen Brewer, joint managing director of the MICE Academy. “Corporates don’t always realise what boutique hotels have to offer and vice versa, when in fact there are a variety of benefits to using these establishments.”
According to Brewer, boutique hotels in particular concentrate their operation more on the accommodation and hospitality side, and while some have entered the MICE side as a further income during quiet periods, they have not really marketed themselves to the corporates.
“If the corporate market do not know about the boutique hotels primarily in their area, then why would they consider using them?” she says.
Pieter Swart, a business events strategist and managing director of Conference Consultancy South Africa, says because boutique hotels are usually owner-managed niche establishments, they are ideally suited for smaller receptions that require a certain intimacy and privacy.
“Board, executive, steering committees, high-end product launches or similar are where boutique hotels really come into their own,” he told TAM.
One of the biggest benefits, says professional conference organiser and owner of Vespasian Consulting, Carla Rossouw, is the exclusivity they offer. “Exclusive use is often an option. These hotels are flexible and could provide a more unique experience to the corporate client.”
Megan McIlrath, co-founder of Event Affairs, agrees. “They are not bound by the rules and regulations that exist in the well-known chains. It also provides a unique experience for your guests as most corporates and attendees of corporate events have been to the mainstream hotel chains in the past. I often find that there is more individual attention as well, and attention to small details at boutique hotels is something that can sometimes be amiss at the bigger hotels.”
Destroying the myths
One of the biggest misconceptions, says Swart, is that boutique hotels are more expensive than other conference and meeting facilities. “Depending on specific and unique service requirements, most boutique hotels will work together with their clients to meet budgets,” he says.
Swart says his company makes use of boutique hotels for strategic meetings that include international bid committee meetings, executive consultation meetings, launches of conferences to sponsors, media and other key stakeholders, and high-end training programmes.
Most boutique hotels have some unique offering in terms of location, arrangements and/or services as well, says Swart. “This is ideal when dedicated hospitality in a very special, private or secluded setting is desired to meet a client's strategic event objectives.”
Rossouw says it is about matching a venue as closely as possible to the specific requirements of a client, considering factors such as the size of the group, type of function, type of venue and cost.
“One often thinks that boutique means a high standard. This is not always true. One would need to work through the same criteria for selecting a suitable venue for the corporate client’s needs with a boutique hotel as for a chain hotel. Boutique hotels are not necessarily more expensive,” she says. “If you are dealing with clients looking for four- and five-star events, most boutique hotels are good options to consider.”
According to McIlrath, the challenge is not necessarily cost, but rather size. “They are simply not equipped for larger events and so one is limited to using them for very specific reasons. Also because of limited capacity those in the corporate space do get booked up quickly, making availability a challenge.”
But the good news, says Rossouw, is that boutique venue options have grown considerably over the past ten years. “It is an excellent addition to the standard chain hotel options of the past.”
Adds McIlrath: “Boutique hotels know how to deliver a unique experience and excellent service. That’s not to say any mainstream hotel doesn’t provide excellent service but you do get more individual attention at these facilities.”