Broadening Boutique: Ariela Kiradjian of BLLA and Stay Boutique on the Future of Boutique

Ariela Kiradjian

The mother-daughter duo of Ariela and Frances Kiradjian is most definitely a dynamic one. Together, they run both the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA) and its publication, Stay Boutique, as well as a several boutique-focused events all over the world. Ariela, who holds the position of COO, connected with LODGING to discuss this week’s Boutique Hotel Investment Conference, the progress of the association’s rebranding initiative, which began one year ago, and how boutique is becoming an industry unto itself.

At last year’s investment meeting, you announced BLLA’s name change—to the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association from the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association. Why now?
Changing the name of our association from “lodging” to “leader” was the first of the many steps we’re taking to reflect our change in focus and to better serve the broader boutique community we represent—a community that now goes beyond lodging to encompass many related industries, including restaurants, bars, fitness studios, art galleries, coffee and juice shops, retail stores, and brands.

As part of this, we’re also now giving the BLLA website a facelift to make it more contemporary, and to support our most ambitious initiative: We’re relaunching the membership program for the association. With our website as a tool, our goal is to build a social network where all the hoteliers and concept owners can connect with each other, as well as vendors and other leaders in the industry. We’re also going to be creating more member-exclusive content, including resources for our members.

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As part of the rebranding and coordination, Stay Boutique will sport a brand-new logo with a cherry, and it will post an official list of member boutique hotels, with those that qualify as “cherry picked” listed first. This represents the first time ever we will be marketing to travelers.

How are your members responding to these changes?
Since my mother foresaw the rise of the boutique hotels and created the BLLA 10 years ago, there were always naysayers—people questioning the need for an official association for boutique hotels. Looking to the future of boutiques now, we believe it’s in multi-concept brands. We’ll be talking more about that at the meeting on June 5th; but our members—many of whom have been with us since the beginning—love that we’re not afraid to disrupt and tell the truth as we see it based on our understanding of travelers. Our current members are thrilled with the new website, and there’s a long list of people and hotels that want to become members once the relaunch is complete.

How did BLLA come to recognize the need to take a broader approach to the boutique lodging industry?
We saw the similarities between boutique hotels, retail stores restaurants, bars, fitness studios, etc. There are also a lot of similarities between their owners, organizational structures, how they market, even who they’re marketing to. There’s a lot of overlap. It seems that people don’t just like to stay in a boutique hotel, but when they travel, they want everything to be boutique. What we’re doing is gathering all these types of boutique concepts, because let’s face it, when you create a boutique hotel right, it’s extremely profitable and also creates an amazing platform for the company to do a lot more. We’re going to see much more of that with different types of boutique concepts creating overnight experiences.

How are you working to make sure that all of these areas are playing well with each other and nothing’s overshadowing anything else?
The objective is for them to support each other. We’re going to start seeing new hospitality brands that are encompassing a lot of different areas. An example of that would be Make Ready. They do retail, bars, and now hotels. They’re going to start opening up more and more hotels, but they are masters at all three aspects.

Something else we’re launching with the help of a whole host of advisors are guidelines defining what is and isn’t “boutique.” A hotel will need to meet certain criteria to be considered a boutique hotel. Authenticity is the number-one issue with boutique hotels right now. We need to make sure that those that aren’t authentically boutique are not able to market themselves as such to the traveler. Stay Boutique, too, strives to educate the traveler as to what boutique actually is.

What does it take for a brand to jump into the boutique hotel space?
Anyone serious about opening a boutique hotel will need to be serious about it to succeed. You can open a Taco Bell [hotel] for a day or two for a fun event, but you’ll need to partner with hospitality professionals to mentor you through the process, as was done, for example, by the company Shinola, which opened a boutique hotel in Detroit. We’ll be talking more about that on June 5th with the CEO of Shinola, when we’ll be talking about the future of the boutique hotel.

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