The term "boutique" is used often in the travel business, from boutique hotels, tour companies, to travel agencies. But what does it mean for YOUR business?
By definition, boutique refers to "a business serving a sophisticated or specialized clientele." (Oxford English Dictionary.)
By extension, a boutique tour operator is typically one with a honed and highbrow focus. Does the idea of a safari make you roar with anticipation? There are tour companies that offer wild, yet tamely refined, excursions to Africa's biggest game reserves. Others specialize in wine tours of the world's great regions that impress the most cultivated of oenophiles. Boutique tour operators serve a niche, with customized itineraries that are a departure from the major guided tour companies. While the latter may concentrate on a particular demographic or travel style, they still have a broader scope and wider accessibility than the boutique counterpart.
When it comes to the hotel and agency side of things however, the definition of boutique can get a bit diluted.
Boutique hotel is arguably the most recognized of the two. The trend was cemented in the late 1990s, then really took off in the earlier part of this century, to become the mainstay that it is today. The popularity of the boutique hotel gave rise to an increasing number of small and stylish hotels. However, many hotels began appearing with the marketing sobriquet of "boutique" when in fact, they were not. The bandwagon mentality behind the misnomer referred to any urbane and upscale hotel experience as "boutique."
(Fun fact: "boutique hotel" was first coined back in 1984 by owner of New York City's Morgans Hotel, which still exists today, in addition to the group's boutique hotels around the globe.)
True boutique hotels have a small number of rooms, ranging from from ten to 150.
Design-driven, they typically feature sleek and stylish decor. They are not afraid to be whimsical and eclectic with their modern design, a reflection of their independent flair and character. Small, chic lobbies and intimate bars whisper an attitude that attracts “those who know.”
Highly-personalized services that go beyond the expected, or the realm of "mainstream" hotels, are especially appreciated by the business traveller. These include individual welcoming letters, and serene business amenities. The vibe lends itself to a home away atmosphere, yet is too indulgent to be called home. One can feel decadent while remaining professional, thanks to bespoke amenities and toiletries, and the smaller scale and efficiency a boutique hotel promises.
Boutique travel companies may not be quite as familiar, but we're seeing more on the rise, just as we did in the early 2000s with the boutique hotel phenomenon. Some specialize in high-end luxury, others are experts in corporate travel planning.
The Boutique Travel Company
A "one size fits all" approach to booking travel works well in leisure travel. Take for example, charter flights, last-minute deals or vacation packages.
These travel schematics don't necessarily apply to the business traveller, requiring specific travel itineraries tailored to their professional— as well as personal— needs. The expertise of a corporate travel consultant is indispensable for specialized and seamless travel.
Boutique travel companies use a different model from the larger companies and the call centres associated with them. Instead, one has a dedicated travel manager who acts as the sole point of contact. But travel call centres are open 24/7, you say? A boutique service, like Corporate Traveller, is also available to you every hour of every day, and the person at the other end will be versed in your exact schedule and business. They know who you are.
A BMW driver wouldn’t take her car to Mack & Joe’s body shop and similarly, a business traveller should entrust his itinerary to a skilled expert.
While we know that "bricks and mortar" travel agencies provide a more personalized service than the online travel agency (OTA), the boutique travel agency takes this further. The designated travel consultant meets with her client at regular intervals to stay current on the client's business climate and needs. Strategies are put in place and updated, in an effort to save the company money and the client time. The OTA might work well for one-off travel, but for someone travelling regularly, a strategy is optimal.
You'll also find that this niche travel manager has a wealth of experience in booking travel and travelling himself. While highly specialized, they are also fluent in a breadth of industries. Committed to making the travel experience well-rounded, an agent with a boutique agency might also ask if you are looking for a local and authentic aspect to your business trip, and tailor an itinerary that makes the most of your destination, beyond the boardroom.
A Final Word
There are many definitions for "boutique" when it comes to travel, depending on the source, so you don't have to take our word for it. There is however, one true meaning when it comes to a boutique travel agency and that's a personalized, professional and practical approach to booking significant travel itineraries. If this sounds like something of interest to you, perhaps it's time to consider booking with an expert organization like Corporate Traveller. Please let us know if you'd like to discuss further by enquiring here.