A boutique hotel is something like art, hard to define, but you know one when you see it. Building a 21st century boutique hotel is much more complex than building a branded, conventional hotel, which already has highly researched standards that appeal to a broad cross-section of guests. A boutique is a one-of-a kind lodging experience. Perhaps the two hottest hotel concepts today, as well as the most confused, are "lifestyle" and "boutique." While they are often combined to identify one hotel, the two concepts are distinctly different, nearly at opposite ends of the spectrum. Lifestyle hotels generally are targeted to mass markets, while boutique hotels aim for each guest individually, or a "market of one."

Lifestyle hotels are largely a creation of the major brands. While they "feel" independent, there is a similarity in the product across the brand. Boutiques, on the other hand, have individual personalities that don't often transfer well from market to market. Creating and building a boutique hotel today requires a sophisticated skill set and dedication to a unique and clear vision.

The branded lifestyle hotel is built around the premise of creating an image: "We are hip. If you want to hang out with hip people, come stay with us." They create an environment that has a certain snob appeal of "see and be seen." Starwood's W brand has done an extraordinary job of creating this image and has been quite successful in building demand from developers and consumers alike.

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