Boutique hotel development is on the rise as travellers seek out more unique experiences, but what demographic is driving this growth?

Travellers who enjoy staying at boutique hotels are not defined by age or even income, as much as they are by expectation and attitude. That is one of the key findings in a new report that breaks down the specific booking and travel behaviours of millennial and baby boomer travellers within this fast developing sector.

The whitepaper from The Guestbook, which helps independent hotels increase direct booking conversions and net revenue through a cash back scheme, surveyed 1,031 Americans over the age of 25 with a household income above USD75,000. It focuses on the millennial and baby boomer categories, which account for around half of the US population, but a greater share of its spending.

Understanding Boutique Aficionados’ highlights that this market of travellers mainly travel to relax (33%), but are also influenced by good food (28%), adventure (27%) and connecting with family (27%). They travel to learn and experience new things (36%), enjoy good food and drink (17%) and want to change their perspectives (16%).

Women seek relaxation (36%) and rejuvenation (18%) more than their male counterparts (32% and 13%, respectively), while interestingly baby boomers aged 65 and over most preferred to be the first to try a new destination (23%), and those aged 50-65 had the highest preference for being physically challenged during a vacation (10%).

But why the preference to stay at boutique hotels over chains? Well, the research shows that the reasons for staying at a boutique hotel somewhat mirrors the motivation to travel – they are seeking unique, personal experiences (20%). Over 18% wanted a better location, while 13% wanted to experience the destination through their hotel.

Surprisingly, the findings show that only 15% make the boutique hotel choice for a luxurious experience, while only 12% chose to stay at a boutique hotel because they wanted a higher level of customer service. Millennials were the only age segment who, in addition to preferring a boutique hotel for the personal experience (19%), also chose them because they desired a hotel that fit their personality (19%).

Most ‘Boutique Aficionados’ are keen to share their photos while traveling, with one in three (34%) preferring to keep their experiences private and not share photos on social media. They also rely on recommendations from friends and family (17%) when booking, ahead of price comparison sites (15%), online recommendations (11%), or insights from search websites (10%).

While price comparison and search sites may be key in the research stage, the report shows that the picture changes when it comes to making bookings with 30% booking directly via the property website, 42% using an OTA and 10% the traditional travel agent.

IMAGE – The Guestbook’s ‘Understanding Boutique Aficionados’ survey found that travellers who enjoy staying at boutique hotels are not defined by age or even income, as much as they are by expectation and attitudeSource: The Guestbook’s ‘Understanding Boutique Aficionados’ report

But, they don’t rush into the booking process, according to the report, but take their time and do careful research online before they actually book a hotel. The survey reveals that almost half (48%) look at two to three websites, while the other 41% view more than four sites. They also invest a lot of time researching, with 61% spending 10 to 45 minutes looking at sites before they actually book, with one in five (19%) spending over an hour exploring hotels.

Given that these ‘Boutique Aficionados’ appear to spend so much time researching hotels, the report highlights “it’s important for hoteliers to understand the website assets that most influence their decision-making process”. When questioned, a description of the hotel rooms (46%) was ranked as the most important factor, with reviews from past guests (42%) and visual appeal of website (35%) following.

Similarly, lack of information on rooms and amenities (52%) would put people off booking, as would high prices (52%) and unavailable dates (51%). Alarmingly, more than one in three (36%) would not communicate with the hotel if they had any questions and would dimply look elsewhere.

The majority (61%) would use the telephone to contact the property for any further details, with 47% preferring to use live-chat functionality. You would think using the telephone would be the main preference of baby boomers, but the research shows millennials actually had the highest preference (69%) over Baby Boomers (57%).

“With hotel guests growing in sophistication and millennial travellers maturing, attracting travellers with a discerning eye is becoming increasingly challenging in the highly competitive boutique hotel space,” says Jessica Powell, vice president of marketing at The Guestbook and author of the whitepaper.

To meet the expectations of these ‘Boutique Aficionados’, she suggests hotels “be more relevant by leveraging vacation motivations… build the desire to book direct… compel guests to share… elevate the online user experience… the details make the difference.”

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