Richard Millard, who'd probably look like he was having fun at a funeral, wants you. The quirky and always engaging CEO and chairman of Trust Hospitality — Tecton and Desires until recently — ended the opening general session Thursday at the Lifestyle/Boutique Hotel Development Conference with an impassioned plea about the allure of the lifestyle and boutique segments of the hotel industry:
“This is a fun thing to do. This is the place to be — the most fun. This is where the industry is going, it's what the customer wants. There's so much room for more.”
Judging by the atmosphere — the optimistic, outgoing and enthusiastic speakers and attendees, not to mention the Bloody Mary and Mimosa cocktail bars with breakfast and the cigar rollers at the evening receptions — Millard was absolutely right. The leaders and key players in the lifestyle and boutique segments — more than two hundred attendees — converged on the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach for the third annual LBHDC, and despite what some termed “choppy” economic times, the outlook for these segments was far from bleak.
Tim Miller, the leader of Marriott's new Edition brand, was forthright and honest about the recent fiasco in Honolulu. But despite the early challenges to the brand, he was confident and so was his employer, Marriott, who he said was in the process of putting millions, hundreds of millions of dollars even, of its own money into developing Editions in gateway cities around the world.
Other brand companies were in attendance and talking about their own forays into this space, from Wyndham and Hampshire Hotels and their new Dream offering, to Choice Hotels and its Ascend Collection, and Marriott with its Autograph Collection, and even Best Western, with its long history of allowing independent-thinking owners the freedom to succeed in this arena.
There were owners, like Tim Dixon of the Iron Horse in Milwaukee, and Richard Kessler of the Kessler Collection, who were both discussing new projects they were hoping to soon get off the ground.
This space is fun. It's different and it's refreshing. There's a reason companies like Marriott and Choice are breaking away from the conformity they're known for. This is what today's consumer wants. Whether it's lifestyle or boutique and whether we as an industry can define those terms doesn't really matter.
What matters is having fun. These segments are about providing customers with an experience they won't forget. Having passionate leaders and employees following those leads is a pretty good formula to providing one-of-a-kind experiences.