Millennial and Gen Z designers just opened a boutique in California that may overturn assumptions about beachside hotels. Plus, its web-based app hints at what next-gen guests expect in service.
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The Orli Hotel in La Jolla, California, is betting that travelers with a next-gen mindset are open to a coastal getaway that doesn’t have an overtly beachy feel. A pair of millennial and Gen-Z founders have created a high-design boutique hotel in their seaside hometown, attempting to depart from cliché.
Thanks to co-founders, owner-operators, and siblings Hailey Waitt and Max Waitt, the Orli Hotel has played against type since it opened in the past year. Instead of pastels, expect dark metal finishes alongside blue and amber tones that reflect local tidepools.
Instead of nautical knickknacks and color-block patterns, expect rich textures and echoes of Parisian Art Deco and Modernism.
Instead of shutters and ceiling fans in a bungalow-style layout, expect custom-blown glass chandeliers in the entryway of a tall 1913 structure.
Instead of wings full of rooms, expect only 13 guestrooms.
For help with the hotel’s “luxe homestay” vibe, the Waitts tapped ML Design Co., a hospitality design firm led by hometown native Maddie Lord. Together, their design choices echo a broader trend of proprietor-led boutique hotels.
Not Your Typical Beach Hotel
“We didn’t set out with a ‘let’s be as unique as possible’ mindset, but we didn’t want to be cookie-cutter of course, and we wanted something that wasn’t available in the market,” said Hailey Waitt.
Details like the kombucha and cold brew on tap (free for guests) that’s sourced locally reflect intentionality about creating a “sense of place.”
Orli’s rooms are also created to appeal to guests personally. Each room has a name, plus a different vibe and perks.
“We wanted you to see which one spoke to you,” said Hailey. The Wing suite, for example, has a record player, while The Nomad features a Polaroid camera.
“Hailey and I had the fortunate opportunity of traveling quite a bit when we were younger,” said Max. “Our dad and mom really emphasized exploring other cultures and areas.”
When the pandemic hit, siblings Hailey and Max faced career transitions. A few months later, the Bed and Breakfast Inn at La Jolla came on the market, and they bought it.
“We conceived all of our experiences from travel at a young age into this new hospitality concept that later became Orli,” said Max. Orli means hems in Italian — a reference to the tailored experience they’re hoping to offer guests, as well as a nod to their family (“HEMS” is an acronym for the four Waitt siblings: Hailey, Emily, Max, and Sophia).
Today, Hailey handles the legal and human resources side of the business, while Max works on the finance and software technology side. Both keep an eye on marketing and branding.
Boutique Hotel Tech
The father of the two hospitality entrepreneurs, Ted Waitt, co-founded the once-ascendant computer company Gateway.
Given their family’s roots, it’s no surprise that technology would be one of Max and Hailey’s main focuses — which isn’t always the norm at stand-alone boutique hotels.
Before arrival, guests are invited to “build their perfect stay,” through their web-based app. (Downloading an iOS app, Max said, has a higher barrier to entry, so they opted for web-based.)
Guests can use the app to do anything from message the hotel, order a flower arrangement from a local florist, secure sweet treats from La Jolla-based bakeries, or book a kayaking trip to tour sea caves.
“Every partnership we offer both in-room as an add-on as well as the local tours and local operators were all handpicked by Hailey and myself,” said Max. “We took the tours, and experienced all of them.”
Incorporating local businesses is a practice that comes with additional perks. Not only are they supporting the community, but it makes their guests feel even more connected to the boutique property.
“Guests love the local aspect, that the owner of Flower Pot [a local bakery] actually hand-delivers the pastries,” said Hailey. “Knowing that makes them like the pastry even more than they would have.”
Hailey and Max also try to capture that local feeling when guests enter their property.
“You’re greeted by a friendly face, whether it’s Jordan or Omar, and we’re kind of like your friend,” said Max.
Jordan is Hailey’s husband, a former professional soccer player.
“I was there yesterday, and a guest asked ‘Are you Jordan’s wife?’ — it’s just funny that guests know everyone by name because it’s such a small team and such a cozy, comfortable vibe,” Hailey said.
While the Orli concept is working in La Jolla — they say they’re buzzing this summer with pop-up concerts and yoga events — it remains unclear if the Orli concept is a one-off passion project or a brand that can scale.
“One of the biggest things we found early on is that people love the experience and the concept that we built,” said Max. “We really found there is a need for future Orlis in other markets. The concept, given its small physical footprint, lends itself to be easily expandable in other markets across the U.S.”
Photo credit: The entry and lobby at Orli, a new boutique hotel in La Jolla, California. Source: Orli.