Keen to learn about the latest boutique hotel trends, I attended the Boutique + Lifestyle Hotel Summit at The Montcalm London Marble Arch on the 24 May 2016. The event saw independent hotels, global brands and suppliers discuss the trends, threats and opportunities arising in the boutique hotel market. There were two key themes that dominated many of the sessions throughout the summit – OTAs and social media. I found the first session of the summit, The GM Speaks, particularly interesting as it was chaired by Peter Hancock, the chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels, and saw four general managers of boutique hotels discuss a range of topics affecting the boutique hotel market. The panellists of the session were: Melissa Stoman, Draycott Hotel Eva Mount, The Arch Susanne Traudt, South Place Oliver Williams, Ellenborough Park Inbound Tourism – is the drop a worry for hoteliers? One big topic discussed during the session was inbound tourism. Back in 2014, VisitBritain forecasted a 3.8% increase in inbound tourism for the UK due to the Rugby World Cup and the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations. However, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the general managers of the London hotels have seen a dip in the number of inbound tourism guests, with tourists avoiding staying in main cities due to the threat of terrorism. Although this drop in inbound tourism is a concern, each of the GMs agreed that they have all seen the staycation trend increase and the corporate market remain strong. Oliver Williams said that he has found that the drop in inbound tourism hasn’t affected his business hugely as 70-80% of Ellenborough Park’s market is domestic and is seen as more of a staycation destination. The rise of Airbnb Although the recent attacks on cities have had a big effect on the number of inbound tourism guests staying at the hotel, the increase of people using Airbnb is also having an effect on the market. Many of the GMs sat on the panel have taken a ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ approach to the Airbnb phenomenon by listing their bigger rooms or suites on the site. One thing that is worrying the hoteliers is the younger generation’s need for experiences over luxury hotel stays and they feel this is why Airbnb is attracting such a large audience. Lean luxury – is this a threat to traditional hotels? Peter Hancock addressed one of the hotel industry’s newest trends, lean luxury, and asked the GMs what they thought of it. Although each of the GMs had their own opinion on what lean luxury is, they all agreed that this is a trend and not a threat to the traditional hotels. Eva Mount and Susanne Traudt discussed lean luxury as being the removal of old fashioned hotel design and service, and not the removal of traditional hotel service and luxury altogether. Combating OTAs Even though they have been used for many years, one of the biggest threats identified by hotel GMs is Online Travel Agents (OTAs). The recent increase of Google paid rankings has made it harder for hotels to develop the organic SEO that they need to reach the top of the search engine rankings. This in turn has made it more difficult for hotels to generate direct bookings and means that OTAs are overtaking them. Melissa Stoman from Draycott Hotel explained that she had found that hotel guests will always book through an OTA, regardless of the rate, just because it’s more convenient. To increase their number of direct bookings, Draycott Hotel spends 8% of their turnover on sales and marketing activities including their website and social media. The session concluded with all of the panellists agreeing that OTAs are a “necessary evil” but hotels need to work harder to build relationships with their guests to increase their chances of direct bookings. Although I agreed with the GMs, I feel that there is more that can be done to increase the number of direct bookings. Hotels need to invest more time and money in their digital presence, whether this is social media, e-communications or their website, to make it more convenient for guests to book directly. Umi Digital has written a five step guide to generating direct bookings outlining what hotels can do to decrease the number of bookings coming through OTAs. However, for hotels that find them useful, GuestRevu has shared their tips on how hotels can use OTAs to get maximum results. If you would like to find more out about the Boutique + Lifestyle Hotel Summit, you can read the full highlights of the day here.