At BLLA’s 2018 Boutique Hotel Investment Conference, which took place on Wednesday, June 6 at The Times Center in Manhattan, the organization’s COO, Ariela Kiradjian, made a major announcement: BLLA would be changing its name from the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association to the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association.
“We definitely noticed a lot of shift in boutique hotels over the last few years, and it wasn’t just in how the popularity has grown,” Kiradjian said. She described how the idea for the change came about earlier this year, when stuck in traffic with her mom, Frances Kiradjian, founder and CEO of BLLA. The two women discussed how “boutique” as a concept was changing, and how it was pervading many different industries. “We noticed that the word ‘lodging’ didn’t describe our organization anymore. What we realized is that our association gathered all of the fantastic minds of boutique,” Kiradjian said.
Kiradjian also discussed BLLA’s dedication to diversity, noting that there was an almost even split of men and women speakers (18 and 21 respectively), and that in the future they would seek to include speakers from LGBTQ communities and minority communities. “This is so crucial in hospitality finance because there is very little diversity,” Kiradjian notes, adding that they’re seeking to start a shift in these demographics.
BLLA also chose the conference to launch the latest issue of Stay Boutique magazine, which has been a major source of pride for Kiradjian. “I know it’s weird, this newish brand creating magazines,” she said. “Everything’s digital, which yes, is true, but print isn’t dead. It’s just being reborn.”
Beyond BLLA’s name change announcement, the 2018 conference spotlighted speakers covering everything from the power of the media and the influence of boutique on industries in all sectors, to the opportunities available to boutique hoteliers looking to develop and open new properties.
According to many of the speakers, the rise of boutique as a concept has had a very positive influence on lenders deciding whether to finance new properties. “Flagged hotels were a favored product, but slowly, the debt markets have recognized the place boutique hotels have in the market, and there’s ample debt capital available for boutique hotels today,” said Thomas Fuchsman, vice president at J.P. Morgan, during a panel entitled “How to Get that Boutique Money.”
However, Will Obeid, vice president of Hospitality Investments at Kushner, noted in the same panel that hoteliers looking to get new projects off the ground will have an easier time working with lenders who know the hotel and boutique spaces. “I always prefer to work with lenders who have deep expertise in the [boutique] hospitality business, and I’d rather try to convince them that the margins are there and will be there in a sustainable manner,” he said.
Evolving technology is also playing a role in the advancement of boutique hotels. With so many new systems with exciting capabilities available to boutique hoteliers—at reasonable price points—they are no longer facing the major technology gap that used to separate them from big branded properties. In fact, according to speakers on a panel called “Next Gen Boutique – The Technologies Pushing Boutique into the Future,” integration, not access, is one of the biggest challenges facing boutique properties when it comes to technology. “It’s the biggest challenge for our success, and I think boutique hoteliers face an added component to that because [they’re] smaller, and so oftentimes getting the attention of the big software providers can be a challenge. And so while I think [boutique hoteliers] might have great intentions and might want to adopt technology early, the vendors don’t always play well together to make that happen,” said Tammy Farley, president of Rainmaker, a company that offers cloud-based hotel revenue and profit optimization services.
Further panels discussed boutique entrepreneurship as well as boutique F&B. The keynote panel was a conversation with Josh Hix, the co-founder and CEO of Plated.
The depth and breadth of the panels exemplified the new direction Kiradjian is taking BLLA. “No longer is boutique just a category within hospitality. We are our own industry,” she said.