Traditionally, boutique hotels fell into either the upper-upscale or even luxury lodging categories. Leading the first wave of boutique development were Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Ian Schrager’s Morgans Hotel Group (both upper-upscale). More recent boutique entrants include Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s W Hotels, Edition from Marriott International and Schrager (both luxury) and Gansevoort Hotels and Viceroy Hotels (both upper-upscale), among others.
As the boutique concept evolved, the hotels basically distinguished themselves from other lodging types in four ways: hip, contemporary design; an active nightlife scene, including bars, restaurants and lounges; a focus on guest-facing technology; and a strong appeal initially to Gen X and now to Millennial travelers. Another common thread: They were primarily located in downtown gateway cities.
But in the past 14 months, Best Western International has shaken up the boutique hotel space by launching not one, but two, boutique brands geared to the broad midmarket. First in October 2014 came the rollout of Vīb, followed by the launch of GLō two months ago.
Stylish and Contemporary
Like their upper-upscale and luxury predecessors, both Vīb and GLō are intended to be fresh, stylish and contemporary with vibrant lobbies suited to relaxed social interaction, and hip design. They’re meant to be technology-rich and targeted to gen-Xers and Millennials, though not necessarily to the exclusion of Baby Boomers.
The upper end of the industry’s broad midmarket has been thriving post-recession. As of the end of the third quarter this year, Lodging Econometrics listed 3,056 projects in the U.S. upper-midscale/select-service construction pipeline. That translates to roughly 360,000 guestrooms. Approximately 30 percent of these projects are already under construction. Another 50 percent are scheduled to begin construction within a year, while the remaining 20 percent are in the early planning stage.
In terms of location, Best Western is targeting secondary and suburban markets as well as submarkets of major gateways away from the center city for both Vīb and GLō. Developers tend to encounter fewer barriers to entry for new construction in these markets.
The first Vīb to break ground is an example. The location is Chicago, but specifically Chicago’s Midway International Airport submarket. The 74-room hotel is being developed by Parth 13 and is owned and operated by the Balkrishna Patel family. Active as a franchisee of branded restaurant chains, this is Parth 13’s first hotel. The groundbreaking for the $8-million project occurred last month.
Development deals for other Vīb hotels have been announced for Los Angeles; Little Rock, AR; Staten Island, NY; and Springfield, MO. Two have been announced for different submarkets of Miami. In addition, deals are pending in Atlanta; Charlotte, NC; Dallas; New Orleans; San Diego; and Scottsdale, AZ.
Given Best Western’s strong presence in Asia, Vīb hotels have also been announced for Seoul, South Korea; Vientiane, Laos; and Yangon, Myanmar. Number of keys ranges from 74 (Chicago) to 200 (Los Angeles). Best Western hasn’t yet disclosed any signed deals for GLō .
Considering Best Western’s strong identification with the midmarket tier, the two new brands are designed especially to be cost effective to build and operate. GLō’s floor plan, for example, is designed so that adjacent guestroom bathrooms are center-loaded, saving about 40 to 50 square feet in construction costs.
Thought was given to keeping labor costs under control, thanks to cross-training. Vīb’s lobby, for example, was designed so that the front desk, bar and convenience market are all in close proximity, permitting the front desk team to oversee all three.
On the technology front, Vīb and GLō guests can expect mobile check-in, complimentary Wi-Fi, ample USB and power ports, and “smart” flatscreen televisions.