9 Characteristics of Boutique Hotels

boutique hotels

Hotel Union Square in San Francisco was one of the first truly boutique hotels. Image credit: Hotel Union Square

Temporary lodging for travelers has been around for millennia. The Romans offered accommodations and thermal spas to government travelers. Caravanserais provided shelter for man and beast along the famed Silk Road from Turkey to China. During the Middle Ages, monasteries provided refuge to traveling pilgrims. In 21st century travel, the hotel is ubiquitous. Styles range from flashy mega-hotels to bare-bones youth hostels and all-inclusive beach resorts to quaint country inns. Today’s travelers’ never-ending search for something “new and different” inspired the evolution of boutique hotels. But exactly what is a boutique hotel?

What Are the Characteristics of Boutique Hotels?

“Boutique hotels are characterized by their intimate atmosphere and idiosyncratic style. They distinguish themselves from larger chain hotels by offering personalized attention and styled accommodations which play on a motif.” – USA Today

While there is no strict definition of a boutique hotel, the genre does tend to have some common features. Here are nine characteristics of boutique hotels:

boutique hotels

The Library Lounge, Esprit Saint Germain, Paris – recommended by JosĂ©e Covington, President & CEO of Covington. Image credit: Hotel Saint Germain

Size – Boutique hotels are typically small, with 10 to 100 rooms. They are intimate in scale, creating the ambiance of being a personal guest in a private home, rather than just a hotel occupant. They often have communal “living spaces” where guests can interact.

Individuality – Properties have a distinctive vibe and never have the “cookie cutter” feel of being one in a series. They are often operated independently and are not affiliated with a major chain. That said, the largest independent boutique hotel operator in the world, the Kimpton Hotel brand, is owned by InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts (IHG). Or they may be independently owned, but belong to a luxury hotel association, such as Relais & Chateaux or Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

boutique hotels

The Saguro Palm Springs – recommended by Jennifer E., Covington Online Specialist.
Image credit: Joie de Vivre Hotels

Design – The architecture and interior design of a boutique hotel is as unique as its operations, but always upscale and often combining historic details with chic elegance. The lines may be sleek and contemporary or quaint and homey – or even an artistic amalgamation. Boutique hotels convey a progressively forward style with fastidious décor. Guestrooms are individually decorated, and use upscale linens and exclusive amenities.

Character – Boutique hotels usually have an eccentric personality. They are fun and funky, trendy and offbeat. Their quirky sense of humor might be exhibited through creative guest offerings. For example the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. will deliver a goldfish to your room if you’re missing your own pet.

boutique hotels

Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, Australia – recommended by Karen K., Luxury Vacation Advisor.
Image credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

Location – Again, there is no hard rule, but many boutique hotels are located in the most hip and fashionable urban areas. You’ll find them in lively, up-and-coming sections – they may well be one of the factors in the area’s rejuvenation – and high-end residential neighborhoods that are away from the crowds, but convenient to city highlights. Trendy boutique hotels are also found in resort areas, generally well hidden from the main tourist throng.

Culture – As an extension of the unique personality of each property, boutique hotels often celebrate the local flavor with a strong sense of place by incorporating locally-sourced materials and reflecting the locations heritage through color and art. Themed boutique hotels build the entire guest experience, from décor to services, around a particular subject such as art, fashion or sports

Service – Highly personalized service is a hallmark of boutique hotels. Staff will know your name on the first day of your stay. Providing bespoke luxury amenities such as an extensive pillow menu and custom toiletries, as well as offering sumptuous spa services creates a very high-quality, individualized experience.

boutique hotels

The Farmhouse Inn near Healdsburg, CA boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant for fine country dining.
Recommended by Kim S., Covington Vacation Advisor. Image credit: Farmhouse Inn

Gastronomy – Like everything else about boutique hotels, their restaurants and bars tend to be hip, trendy and locally-sourced. High quality, authentic cuisine, and comfortable cocktail atmospheres make these dining and drinking spots popular with locals as well as guests.

Clientele – The types of travelers who are attracted to boutique hotels are as individual as the hotels themselves and tend to be just as hip. Guests from Millennials to Boomers who enjoy creative design, quirky character, and luxurious service will be right at home in boutique hotels.

If you think boutique hotels are just your style, contact the expert travel advisors at Covington Travel to find your next trendy stay.


    • Hi Manish, Thanks for asking! One of our vacation advisors will be in touch by email today to discuss your needs. Cheers – Beverly

    • Thanks for your interest, Suhaila. I’ll have one of our travel advisors touch base with you ASAP. – Travel Maestro

    • Hi Linda, One interesting hotel in Bali that I’ve written about is the Floating Leaf Resort. You can read about it here: http://bit.ly/2q0rPNt. For more recommendations, please contact our vacation advisors. Best regards, Beverly/Travel Maestro

    • Hi Hana, Thanks for reading. Our travel advisors can recommend boutique hotels around the world and make reservations for you, but we are not in the business of hotel design. 🙂 Contact our travel advisors through the link at the top right of this page. – Beverly/Travel Maestro

  1. hi,
    would you please let me know the authorized body that describes the hotel as boutique hotel ?
    For example, council of architecture has the only right to describe a person as an architect.

    • That’s a good question. I don’t know that there is any one entity who “authorizes” a hotel as “boutique.” I think the designation is more subjective and has to do with the unique feel of the place. Each of the characteristics noted is also pretty subjective in definition, so there’s really no specific criteria. – Beverly/Travel Maestro

    • Hi Chris, Our vacation advisors will be happy to help you find the right hotel in New York. Please click the “Plan My Vacation” button above to get in touch and let us know your dates and details. Someone will get right back to you by phone or email (your choice). Thanks for reading! – Beverly

  2. My wife and I have been talking about going on a weekend retreat to a small hotel where we can escape from the world. I want to make sure that we stay at a modern accommodation that is also quirky so that it will be an awesome experience for us. I love the individuality that you mentioned how the hotels are upscale and have personality. That is what I am kind of looking for.

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