NATIONAL REPORT—As the number of boutique hotels continues to increase, there’s an emphasis on the property’s story and what makes it authentic. But, just how do these hotels tell their story?
“You have to think about differentiating factors—what sets the hotel apart from others in the competitive set—and lean into those differences. It’s where branding starts. Find out what’s different and explore that,” said Jennifer Jost, director of marketing strategy, Charlestowne Hotels. Charlestowne manages The Foundry Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, in Asheville, NC, and The Bristol in Bristol, VA, among others.
Storytelling can be a powerful tool to help communicate ideas, history and knowledge.
“We primarily focus on the history. We underwent a six-month period, a deep dive into the history of the building and the neighborhood it resides in, and received thorough understanding of where it’s been and how it can translate to current times,” said James Poole, GM, The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, NC. “We are trying to create an education experience for guests. A lot of times, we find people are looking for a step above travel and luxury. They want to take something back with them. Here, we found the bones of the building and the historical significance that helps us get the story across.”
The Foundry was designed to preserve its existing buildings in downtown Asheville, NC, to help maintain the character and spirit of the local community. Much of the steel used in the construction of buildings in the Asheville area was formed and created at this site.
“Three of the five buildings are 100 years old and feature brick, hard woods and anything we could preserve like the steel sash windows original to the building dating back to 1915. We wanted to feature the historical aspects,” said Poole. “We preserved and featured the original elevator pulley system on the second floor and wrapped it in a cage and brought it back to life. To take it a step further, we shared its story and have that engraved onto a steel plaque. Not only is it a cool feature and a two-minute read to understand the significance, but it’s also a self-guided history tour. Guests can go through the building and see things that existed and understand why it’s there and was preserved.”
What draws travelers to a boutique hotel? According to Jost, it’s about what makes the property unique and the level of service provided at boutique hotels.
“Our staff members know the guest’s name and preferences before arrival because we see these guests over and over,” she said. “The size and service of boutique is a big piece. In terms of aesthetics, everything is thought through. It’s not copy and paste; we tailor every single item the guest touches during the stay and that adds to the experience.”
Charlestowne Hotels is known for developing and managing hotels founded on a brand story idea. According to Jost, it’s a foundational piece to the puzzle.
“To understand the property is really important; it’s a foundational piece that leads into creative elements and, if you don’t have a brand book to define the story, you get inconsistencies,” she said. “You work with different vendors and people, and the story can get confused by word of mouth. It’s vital to understand the property and tell that story and how it feels. In order to interpret that correctly, you need a foundation.”
In Virginia, The Bristol underwent a big transformation where some elements of the past were kept. Charlestowne Hotels has worked to engage the community with the new look while generating interest among new guests through storytelling.
“We’re lucky because the city welcomed us with open arms,” she said. “We really wanted them to be part of the story and, often, it can be done through food and beverage. We also have live music featuring local artists and a rooftop bar, inviting locals to come and enjoy our F&B and our hotel. Our staff is local and we focus on making sure people know this is a living room for the city. That allows them to feel part of the hotel.”
She added, “At Charlestowne, it’s truly a collaboration between the marketing, operations departments and community involvement. With more than 40 years of experience, it’s not just a one-man show. It’s a partnership to execute the best hotel.”