Hotelintel.co talked to Managing Director Stephane Junca about what boutique hotels need from the industry and what Secret Retreats can do to help small boutique hotels.
What do you think makes you different from other companies?
“Since our launch in 2012, Secret Retreats has shown its difference in many ways. First of all we are principally a community – not a listing or a marketing program – which implies that our members are active, sharing, participating, and putting in common resources. Secondly, our criteria are different: we focus exclusively on Asia; on small properties (under 50 rooms for Retreats, or below 15 rooms for Inns); on independently owned and run properties (no chains, no management companies), and on properties where a host is present onsite to welcome and share knowledge and understanding of local culture.”
“We also have a wider range of services for our members and guests: **a complete Central Reservation System (including a channel manager); a concierge service in several countries and online; an itinerary design unit (Secret Journeys), and a PR team based in several countries worldwide. In addition we offer expertise and consulting services (yield management, rate strategy, sales connections, sustainability, story-telling, etc.), cross-marketing opportunities through other members of the community, and exchange programs (staff, contacts, info) within the community.”
“Our mission is to help and support boutique hospitality to develop in a sustainable way and to provide protection from the effects of mass tourism on the environment and culture, on transportation, and the influence of mass tourism promotion tools.”
What are the reasons a hotel joins your portfolio?
“The differences listed above should be the reasons why new members join – in order to be part of a community that will stand by them and help when they need advice, resources, or contacts. In order to be associated with their peers: hotels sharing the same values, same approach, and same guests. In order to be able to do things together, that a property cannot complete or afford when working alone. And in order to be seen as different and to make a difference themselves.”
What does ‘customized service approach’ mean? How does yours differ from bigger brands, given that some bigger brands also offer a customized service approach?
“Our hotels are run by owners/families and the host embodies that spirit of welcome and service approach. When we offer experiences, it is not only offering a good time, but also offers the key to penetrate and understand local cultures and traditions from an ‘insider’ perspective. This direct host-guest contact is key and genuine. There is no ‘SOP’ to deliver this service – it’s coming from the heart.”
What kind of growth have you noticed in the boutique hotel market since you launched your company?
“I think the number of ‘boutique hotels’ is increasing if you look at the actual developments going on, not only in mature destinations like Bali, Phuket, Samui or Siem Reap, but also in more remote areas like Ladakh, Isan or Borneo. It is also true that the label ‘boutique hotel’ is not controlled, so every hotel can self-claim to be a ‘boutique hotel’. What is sure is that there is a trend: the offer is increasing, the demand from the market also. There’s a shift away from large impersonal big hotels.”
“Even chain hotels, fashion brands, they’re now creating their own ‘boutique hotel brands’. With Secret Retreats we are simply trying to set our own definition and protect it: small, personal, unique and not duplicable, host on site, and integrated socially and sustainably within its environment and population.”
What do you think is lacking in boutique hotels in Asia?
“If, as per our definition, each boutique hotel must be unique, there would be a different answer to this question for each hotel. For each hotel something must be missing or can be improved for sure. But in general, I think the biggest issue for many so-called boutique hotels is the lack of authenticity and sincerity. Having said that, there are also many boutique hotels in Asia offering excellent services and experiences. What is lacking is maybe co-ordination, an alliance of boutique hotels.”** **
What should the industry be doing in terms of promoting or helping boutique hotels?
“The voices of boutique hotels are disseminated as I said above, because there is no coordination. By gathering forces, we try at Secret Retreats to speak louder on behalf of our members. Tourism Boards often neglect boutique hotels in favor of large hotels because individually they represent only a small number of beds, but in fact boutique hotels are artisans of hospitality and often generate a better image a level of quality than the bigger players. It is up to boutique hotels to gather and speak with a united voice if they want to be heard, and for the industry to make space to listen and consider ‘artisans’ opinions and insights’.”
At present, Secret Retreats has around 75 members, including boutique hotels, lodges, camps, villas, and cruises, but that’s not all. The company intends to build upon its success in 2017 by launching Secret Tables – so travelers in Asia will also be able to find those magical unique dining options to make their vacations even more special.