Even hospitality professionals are hard-pressed to come up with a definition of “boutique hotel.”
But they say boutique hotels, each of them different in one way or another from traditional lodging options, are a fast-growing option to their branded brethren.
“If people know about, they prefer them,” says Rob Hendricks, general manager of downtown Reno’s Whitney Peak Hotel.
That means the most important job facing Hendricks is getting word about the hotel in front of as many travelers as possible in the months after its May 17 opening.
And the challenge is all the greater because the hotel is an independent — it doesn’t have the marketing advantages of hotels that carry the flag of a national brand — and because it’s launching an entirely new concept in the heart of downtown Reno.
Whitney Peak, surrounded by casino-hotels, is a non-gaming property. The 157-room hotel, surrounded by casinos where smoking is common, is entirely non-smoking.
That’s a combination likely to appeal to travelers looking for a unique experience, something different from yet another stay in a nationally branded hotel on the outskirts of town, Hendricks says.
Gen Y and Millennial travelers are especially interested in finding that unique experience, and Whitney Peak with its outdoor climbing wall above the Reno Arch positions itself as a base camp for followers of active sports in the Sierra.
The home page of the hotel’s Web site, for instance, spotlights its proximity to the Truckee River and its views of the Sierra — and doesn’t include a mention of the gaming and nightlife that drives downtown Reno.
Those young, outdoors-oriented consumers are likely to search the Web for boutique properties, and they are savvy users of social media.
“The Internet is the great equalizer,” says Hendricks. The hotel’s Web site includes lots of photos, and it will rely on booking sites such as Expedia to add marketing muscle.
Whitney Peak also employs a fulltime social media coordinator.
That Web-heavy approach is a fairly common marketing strategy for boutique properties across the country, says Mehmet Erdem, an associate professor in the College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Consumers who choose a boutique property are looking for an experience as much as they are looking for a place to sleep, the UNLV teacher says, and young, hip travelers are especially likely to seek out the bragging rights that follow a stay in a stylish boutique property.
Boutique hotels — usually relatively small and featuring a high staff-to-guest ratio that ensures exceptional service — focus on their target markets with laser-sharp efficiency, Erdem says.
Whitney Peak’s marketing materials, for instance, prominently photos of backpacks, bicycles and outdoors gears
Using Facebook, Twitter and other tools, the hotel keeps its environmentally sustainable practices front and center.
“We’re walking the talk,” says Hendricks. “Our values are very clear.”
At the same time, Hendricks says Whitney Peak doesn’t want to paint itself into a corner.
“We want to make sure that we’re not too niche-y,” he says.
For business travelers, the hotel positions itself as a full-service property with a top-quality restaurant — Heritage, guided by Campo owner Mark Estee — as well as 8,000 square feet of meeting space and indoor climbing facility for team-building.
To pry those business travelers away from corporate hotels’ perks, Hendricks says Whitney Peak is developing its own loyalty program for frequent travelers.
“For me, loyalty is everything,” he says.
The new hotel’s position as a unique property in downtown Reno should keep it from getting caught up in the price wars that nearby casino-hotels sometimes launch to keep rooms full of potential gaming customers.
A standard two-queen room for a weekend night in July was priced at $129 on the hotel’s site a few days ago — about $30 more than rates quoted by a couple of nearby casino hotels.
“Ours is a different model,” says Hendricks. “We are just trying to sell a hotel room and an amazing restaurant.”
At the same time, Hendricks says the local customers for its restaurant and its concert venue, Cargo, are important to the success of Whitney Peak.
The hotel also is building ties to the nearby University of Nevada, Reno, and was booking rooms to visitors planning a trip to Reno for special events such as Hot August Nights weeks before the hotel was scheduled to open.
The 157 rooms that open this month, along with the restaurant and concert venue, are just the first of a multi-phase project to redevelop the property best known for its long history as Fitzgerald.
Next up: Construction of another 200 hotel rooms, with their exact configuration to be determined once DRW Holdings, the hotel’s Chicago-based owner, has a better sense of market demand.
Hendricks doesn’t have a doubt that Whitney Peak will gain traction quickly.
“It’s never been done before. I think it’s a winner,” he says. “Besides, we are right at the Reno Arch. A hundred people a day risk their lives to stand in the middle of Virginia Street and take photos with us in the background.”