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Berdon’s Pulvirenti Leads Bisnow Panel on Boutique Hotels

A specialist in the hospitality and real estate industries, Pulvirenti brings nearly 30 years of experience advising on acquiring, developing, renovating, and selling hotels and restaurants, as well as other commercial and residential properties.  In this role, he develops models to evaluate the economic and tax effects of potential transactions and performing the essential due diligence to identify any issues or negotiating points.

Joining Pulvirenti on the Bisnow panel were:

  • Jason Brown, Chief Development Officer, Yotel
  • Ray Chung, Director of Design, The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry
  • Jamie Hodari, Chief Executive Officer, Industrious
  • Richard Millard, Chief Executive Officer, Trust Hospitality
  • Brad Wilson, Chief Executive Office, ACE Hotel

The six industry experts covered a variety of topics related to boutique hotels, including the current state of the boutique industry, design and aesthetics, advances in technology, as well as challenges facing the industry.

Current State of the Boutique Hotel Industry

Pulvirenti kicked off the discussion by asking what the word “boutique” meant to the panelists.

Describing the word as “prehistoric,” Wilson said “Boutique today is a vast differential of unique products from hostels all the way up to the luxury world.”  He added, “You cannot chunk them into one category.”  Going further, he said that lifestyle and experience hotels are trending today with the “power of unique” as the draw for guests.

Brown pointed out that Yotel delivers value that people are looking for, such as an easy check-in process, but concurred with Wilson that, “People are staying in our hotels because the experience of physical space is unique.”

Pulvirenti moved the conversation to changes in the boutique industry and Millard commented that this business sector has become a commodity.

“People will only pay a certain amount to stay at a full service Marriott, but the sky is the limit for an ACE Hotel,” said Millard.  “The focus is on delivering price value and a unique experience.”

Design and Aesthetics

As the designer on the panel, Ray Chung offered his insights on creating “a cool vibe.”

“We want to make a hotel a personality, like someone that you meet on vacation,” said Chung, “In New York City, you don’t even see the outside of the building.  The lobby is your face, the thing that [people] remember. That is where the signature of the hotel is.”

Current design trends include the addition of coworking spaces – a style that incorporates a shared working environment into boutique hotels. Pulvirenti asked Hodari how he worked with hotel companies to incorporate the services that Industrious provides.

“We work with companies who want to create unique offices that feel like a boutique hotel,” said Hodari. He noted that the demands of coworking spaces change every six months as worker lifestyles and needs continue to evolve.

Wilson commented that a great designer may develop a unique space that is perfect, but it may reject humanity and force the hotel to tear it down and redo it to make it more human. He called it “un-design.”

Advances in Technology

In looking at the use of technology, Brown stated, “Nothing is new. We are taking stuff that people have been trained to do in other industries that are way more advanced than we are.” He cautioned that it is a risk to incorporate technology.  “You need to see if it is making life easier and delivering value.” he said.

Millard added that his company is just starting to incorporate some technologies, such as mobile check-in, because they “needed to perfect them and make sure they work.”

Challenges Facing the Industry

“I think it is about differentiation more and more,” said Wilson. “Brands providing the differentiation within their portfolio are going to keep their customers.”

Millard added that hotels “can’t be all things to all people. What we do is not for everyone.”

Hodari said that Industrious’ brand “is focused on being cozy and welcoming. Many other coworking operators do the opposite and make you feel like you are in a branded place, not the specific tenant’s office.”

Brown pointed to the growth of Asian influence as a challenge, and argued that it is important to have a global view because that is who the consumers are.  Wilson added that he sees hotels being different in every market, while Millard believes that cultural differences are dramatic and hotels need to learn the local customs.

Weighing in on the opportunities presented by change, Millard also pointed to the large quantity of obsolete and demolished hotels in marketplaces like Charlotte and Pittsburgh.

Wilson felt that one of the biggest challenges of uniqueness is that it is “harder to create than cookie-cutter.”

“No two of our hotels are alike,” Wilson said. “We are known for our hotel lobby in New York City. But our Los Angeles hotel doesn’t have a lobby, but has a rooftop, because in LA they aren’t inside all day.”

Millard added, “Most of the people who work in the hotel industry are interested in their neighborhoods. It is all about local culture and the passion for it.” He said that he is “A big fan of Richard Branson because people love that brand’s culture.”

Brown summed up by saying that his hotels are focused on building culture, and added that he asks candidates in every interview what their Uber rating is. “How you treat that driver determines whether you get hired at Zappos. We incorporate that aspect into our culture,” he said, adding that his “Job is to do whatever is needed right now,” an ideology transferred down from Yotel’s management to its front desk staff.