What are boutique hoteliers most worried about? It’s not the big brands getting bigger, the looming Presidential election, or the threat of Airbnb or online travel agencies like Expedia or Booking.com. Instead, what’s on their minds the most relates to changing customer behavior, rising payroll costs, sales and marketing, and finding just the right location for their properties.

That’s according to the latest survey published by the Boutique Lifestyle & Lodging Association’s (BLLA), “A Look at the Future of the Boutique Hotel Industry.” Every year, the BLLA publishes the results of this survey as a measure of this sector of the hospitality industry and this year’s results weren’t much different from last year’s.

For this year’s survey, BLLA spoke to approximately 50 of its members, 75% of which are based in North America and 25% based in Europe and Asia. Fifty percent were small boutique hotels with fewer than 100 rooms, while 25% had more than 150 rooms. Most were urban, with 66% based in a city center, and 16% were beach or mountain resorts. None were airport hotels.

Here are some of the key highlights from this year’s survey and the annual BLLA Boutique Hotel Investment Conference:

  • Boutique hoteliers think the external factor with the biggest impact on their business is “changing customer behavior” (67%), or what influences customers to make their decisions, followed by “increasing/changing competition” and “other macroeconomic factors” (both at 33%) such as weather and political stability.
  • When asked to rank their top competitors, the hoteliers said other independent and boutique hotels were the biggest threat (66%), followed by “marketing affiliations like Preferred Hotels, Worldhotels, etc.” (41%) and shared accommodation platforms like Airbnb (25%).
  • They don’t view the big brands as a huge threat even as they continue to consolidate. “I think the consolidation of the big companies — I think that’s good for us on the boutique side,” Mark Keiser, chief development officer of The SH Group (Baccarat Hotels & 1 Hotels) said on stage at a panel. “We represent a choice of something different and unique. They’re starting to slice the pie really thinly between some of the brands.”
  • Those boutique hotels that have joined soft-brand collections (like Marriott’s Autograph Collection or Hilton’s Curio Collection) or have been acquired by the bigger brands, still look for ways to be autonomous and to differentiate their hotels through staff training.
  • Most boutique hoteliers don’t think the political climate will have any impact on the industry (59%), while 24% said it would and it would be positive. Seventeen percent said there would be an impact and it would be negative.
  • They plan to grow: 66% are planning to expand their businesses in the next six to 12 months.
  • When it comes to their budgets, rising payroll costs are their biggest concern. Seventy-five percent said it is their biggest cost pressure, followed by the cost of distribution (25%).
  • Interestingly, when asked from which source do they receive the most bookings, 59% said they get their bookings directly from their own sites or by phone. Only 18% said they get the majority of their bookings from online travel agencies like Expedia or Booking.com.
  • Boutique hoteliers (59%) are paying attention to their sales and marketing activities and the social media channels they have the most faith in are Facebook and Instagram (26%).
  • Only 33% of respondents participate in a customer loyalty program.
  • The majority (22%) believe their locations give them a major competitive advantage over other hotels.
Photo Credit: The Baccarat Hotel in New York City. Baccarat Hotel & Residences New York