Checking In With Ariela Kiradjian of BLLA and Stay Boutique

Ariela Kiradjian, COO at the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) and co-founder of Stay Boutique, has been entrenched in hospitality for pretty much her entire life. She started attending lodging industry meetings with her mother, Frances Kiradjian, when she was in Kindergarten. “I remember my first hospitality meeting, I was 6 years old and it was somewhere on Highland in Los Angeles—I vividly remember it!” she says. “Ever since, I’ve been my mom’s plus-one for just about all of her meetings.”

Now, Kiradjian is a year out from the launch of Stay Boutique, and is preparing for BLLA’s annual investment conference in June. LODGING caught up with her to talk about how her family history in the industry has influenced her career path, and what trends she’s expecting to see in the boutique and lifestyle spaces in the next year.

You’ve been in hospitality your entire life—was there a particular event that cemented your decision to enter the industry?
My firm decision to enter the hospitality industry was when I was a freshman in high school. I was helping my mom build BLLA on the weekends. It was then that I decided that my dream job was to one day become CEO of BLLA.

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Are you differentiating your approach to hospitality from your mother’s? And is it ever difficult working in the same space?
Ha! Yes it can definitely be very challenging to work with my mom, we have our moments. But she’s actually the best business partner I could ever ask for. We actually have the same view on the metamorphosis of hospitality. When we have our brainstorming sessions and start bouncing ideas off of each other, you would be surprised at how progressive her mindset is- she is the queen of innovation and she’s the only person on earth who could have started BLLA.

You launched Stay Boutique last year. How are things going?
Amazing! We have so much up our sleeve with this new brand, which will bring disruption and creativity to hospitality. We’re continuing with our magazine and focusing on growing its digital foot-print. We’re in the design process for our booking site as well.

And then there are the events! We will be hosting the Stay Boutique Awards Dinner in Los Angeles this November and will be bringing back our popular Stay Boutique Leadership Conference, also in L.A., in February of 2019. Next year, we are also going to be introducing a lot of new events under the Stay Boutique name.

Why was 2017 the right time to launch Stay Boutique?
I’ve heard some say that we’ve been too forward-thinking and that the industry wasn’t ready for something like this. But us Kiradjians strongly believe in the out-of-the-box thinking in our industry and we wanted to get a head start on taking our community into the future.

How has Stay Boutique evolved since its launch?
Since our launch, we’ve created an online media platform (stayboutiquemedia.com) and are designing our booking platform. We also launched our Stay Boutique Social Club Dinner Series. The goal of this series is to gather local boutique leaders for dinner in an intimate setting where they can get to know fellow disruptive-thinkers. Our first one is in collaboration with Hoxton Hotels on May 1 and we are so excited about the launch. The more digital our society becomes, the more need there is for face-to-face interaction.

What is Stay Boutique’s current topmost focus?
Well my mom and I have different focuses. She is focusing on the official list/booking and large events side and I am focusing on the media and small events side. We’re also getting ready to really grow our team.

Do you see any changes on the horizon for the boutique hotel market?
Oh, completely! What we currently view as a “hotel” is going be completely different by 2020. You’ll be seeing more over-night brand experiences versus a building just being a “hotel.” I always tell hoteliers, the word “hotel” doesn’t justify what your brand does, you’re a “hotel” and so much more!

What do you like most about being in the hospitality space?
I love how the industry is growing so rapidly and become more inclusive, rather than exclusive.