Charming But Pricey, The NATION, April 5, 2003

The boutique style hotel is gaining the attention of investors, developers and, in increasingly large numbers – travellers.

Long popular in Europe and the US, these charming hotels have now reached Asia and range from elegant inns to smart resorts.

Vipasai Niyamabha reports.

What is a boutique hotel? First entering the market in Europe in the 1980s, and later catching on in the US, the boutique hotel’s defining characteristic is its size: it generally has less than 250 rooms.

There’s also a perceived independence and a sense of being unique – each boutique hotel has its particular style and character and is heavily dependent on the design element.

Last but not least, there is the service – customised to meet the tastes of each individual guest.

How did it all start ? The “uniqueness” of boutique hotels began as the perfect antidote – and a natural response – to conventional international hotel chains.

Travellers began to tire of huge, soulless hotels in big cities and a new movement of fresh ideas in lodging design gradually began to cater to those needs.

Under the new trend, the “boutique” hotels were also described as “small luxury” hotels, “hip” hotels or “design” hotels.

The boutique hotel movement was exemplified by the Blakes Hotel in South Kensington, London, established in the early 1980s by designer Anouska Hempel, and the Bedford in Union Square, San Francisco, which was the first in a series of 34 boutique hotels currently operated under the flag of the powerful Kimpton Group.

Ian Schrager established his first boutique hotel in New York City in 1984: the Morgans was designed to serve what he called the re-invented concept of a hotel – a place not just for sleeping, but for provoking and entertaining”.

Claus Sendinger, president of the Design Hotels Augsburg Group, says boutique lodging started with celebrities and trendsetters looking for somewhere different.

The boutique hotel patron is a “sophisticated” traveller who enjoys a unique venue and appreciates individualism.

The guest is willing to pay more to get more, and is desirous of a high degree of personal attention in this increasingly impersonal world.

The features are not only a chic form and style – which is just hardware,” says Sendinger.

It also needs software, which includes top notch and personalised service.

Right Here, Right Now Thailand has embraced this new concept with gusto.

Despite the uncertain times, the number of boutique hotels is growing rapidly.

They come in all styles, from modern minimalist decor and Mediterranean villas, to tasteful blends of Asian furnishings.

Danai Wansom, president of Aprime Hotels and Resorts, manages the Phuley Beach Aprime Resort, a new luxury boutique resort in Krabi.

Danai says that boutique hotels and resorts in Thailand focus on size, architecture and interior design – quite a different approach from that of conventional hotels most Thai tourists are familiar with.

Market dynamics have also fuelled this new trend.

Supakorn Kijkanakorn, owner of Aleenta Resort in Pranburi, Prachurb Khiri Khan, says demand is increasing especially among well-heeled Thai travellers, who are looking for new experiences – and pleasant surprises – and who appreciate individualism and uniqueness.

Although the price is on par with five-star hotels, more and more travellers are choosing boutique hotels.

Adding to the trend is the growing number of single young professionals with disposable income.

Boutique hotels also attract a larger percentage of female travellers.

This is attributed, in part, to the heightened sense of security that a more intimate, highly service-minded environment demands.

And since boutique hotels are exotic, small and intimate, they are able to offer personalised service.

Danai also believes that what guests need is not an endless range of facilities, but a place that gives them a chance to explore and experience the local feel, without sacrificing elegance and comfort.

“It’s not just young people who are attracted to this type of hotel.

They are for anyone who needs a real escape and who don’t want to be in a big hotel with hundreds of people milling around.

————————– The Aleenta Beach Resort The Aleenta is a new hotel group that is planning to expand throughout Thailand over the next few years.

The first, Aleenta Beach Resort, opened in mid-February in Pranburi – where the Evason Hua Hin Resort and Spa and the stylish Hua Plee Lazy Beach Resort are situated.

The 10-room Aleenta is right next to a quiet beach.

Supakorn Kijkanakorn, Aleenta’s co-founder, says although the resort is small he thinks the chic, two-storey private units work just fine.

“Guests are excited by the different decors we use – some houses have a jacuzzi in front of the unit like other five-star resorts.

Although we have no television, we provide a really good audio set-up in each room.

I think it’s more pleasant this way.

” Rates vary from Bt5,000 to Bt10,000 per night until end of April; Bt3,750 to Bt7,500 from May to October.

Call (032) 570194, fax (032) 570220 or visit www.

aleenta.

com for details.

————————– The Tamarind Village If you like earthy brick swimming pools and historic Thai architecture then the Tamarind Village, in the heart of Chiang Mai, will suit you just fine.

Its 40-rooms are set in a village-style amid well-designed private courtyards, and 200-year-old tamarind trees.

Rates vary from US$95 (Bt4,000) to $145++ per night.

Call (053) 418896-9 or visit their website: www.

tamarindvillage.

com for more details.

————————– Casa Papaya Maneekanya Chotiros says her three-month-old resort in Cha-am is painted in bright colours because she was bored with the white-villa look.

“It’s a mixed-up kind of design, but it suits my lifestyle,” she says.

Her vivid sense of style is obviously appealing, as all seven rooms are fully booked until the end of April.

Six more rooms will be built later this year, but “the service will remain intimate – just like you’re on a holiday at your friend’s home”, she adds.

Rates until the end of October: Bt2,300 to Bt2,800 per night on weekdays; Bt2,700 to Bt3,200 on weekends.

Call (02) 2861707, (01) 2567276, (01) 9149115 for details or visit their website: www.

casapapayathailand.

com ————————– Costa Lanta There are many elegant resorts on Krabi’s Koh Lanta such as Sri Lanta and Pimalai Resort and Spa, but you may find Costa Lanta has that extra something.

Opened early last year, Costa Lanta has only 14 residences located on the Klong Dao Beach of Lanta Yai Island, about 70km from the centre of Krabi Province.

Designed by Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag, each open-air, box-shaped residence is simple yet stylish.

A major element of the design is to highlight the surrounding natural environment – a crucial part of the resort’s attraction.

Rates are Bt5,500 per night until the end of April; Bt3,900 from May to October.

Call (02) 6623550-1 or visit their website: www.

costalanta.

com for details.

————————– Phu Chaisai Resort ML Sudavadee Kriangkrai of Phu Chaisai Resort in the foothills of Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai, has used local materials to create unique furnishings that lend a very sophisticated look to the 40-room resort.

Being both owner and designer, Sudavadee is always adding new touches to her resort – like adding a new spa, extending the existing rooms and adding that extra something to the honeymoon suites.

Rates vary between Bt4,000 and Bt15,000 per night until the end of April; Bt3,000 to Bt10,000 from May to September.

Call (053) 918333, (02) 2602646, (01) 602 8635 or visit their website: www.

phu-chaisai.

com for more details.

————————– Muang Kulaypan This hotel in Koh Samui was inspired by the tale of “Inao” written by King Rama II.

ML Archava Varavana, the hotel’s designer and decorator, has perfectly blended a sense of history and tradition with the hotel’s Zen-style architecture.

The decor seeks to calm the senses and play down the luxury,” says Archava.

Rates are Bt2,650 to Bt7,500 per night until the end of April; from Bt2,000 to Bt7,000 from May to October.

Call (077) 230036 or visit www.

kulaypan.

com for details.



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