Frances Kiradjian is the founder & CEO of the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) as well as the founder of the Travel Industry Executive Women’s Network (TIEWN). A 25-year hospitality and travel industry leader, Fran created BLLA in 2009 to give a voice to true boutique & lifestyle properties as well as small brands, offering them the opportunity and the means to compete on a level playing field with major hotel companies. BLLA is the voice of the world’s independent boutique and lifestyle hotels. Today the association has more than 1,000 members, providing members with cutting edge education, events, tools and research. Additionally, she founded TIEWN to create an organization for women in travel and hospitality to share best practices, connect, support each other, provide resources and education.
Ariela Kiradjian is the Vice President of BLLA. As Fran’s daughter, she grew up in the hospitality industry and has traveled the world learning about hotels since birth. Through this, she gained a deep passion for the industry and found a love for the boutique hotel sector. She also gained an international perspective from living in the UK and Germany, attending international schools while learning about different cultures and gaining a new view of the world.
How do the experiences offered by boutique and lifestyle hotels give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of their locations?
Fran: These items are sewn within the fabric of what boutique hotels offer their guests; it is what sets them apart and plays a real role in loyalty towards a property. In fact, this is taken from the BLLA White Paper on Boutique Definitions: The most important defining features of boutique hotels are cultural, historical, authenticity; the boutique hotel is not part of a chain and that it provides interesting, unique services. Other important defining descriptors of boutique hotels include, “social spaces such as living rooms, libraries with social rooms” and “many, high quality in-room features”.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Ariela: Bleisure travel has to be my favorite trend at the moment! Since I personally am always traveling for business, I love that it’s now a “thing” to add a little bit of leisure to my business travel by staying an extra few days to really be adventurous and explore the world. There are so many hard workers out there who are traveling for their company and we deserve some fun too!
What sets the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association apart from other hotel associations?
Fran: BLLA is focused on the upscale sector of boutique lifestyle hospitality which includes small brands. Our emphasis is 100% on delivering business to our core members which are the hotels as well as connecting them to authentic, high quality manufacturers and suppliers that work specifically in this hotel sector. Our programs include conferences which are curated to mimic what luxury boutique hotels deliver to their clients. Attendees experience a high level of interesting content alongside a crafted, experiential event where they will walk away feeling like they were at a family function that delivered great networking, knowledge and information not heard in many other events and stylized food, beverages and extra activities. Education is offered alongside partners that are the most influential universities in the world such as UCLA Extension. Classes are directed at boutique lifestyle hoteliers and is a first in the industry.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Ariela: My number one recommendation would be to use Instagram to research hotels, restaurants, attractions and such and receive some great travel suggestions. By 2016, the saying is if you didn’t take a picture, were you really there? Thus, I recommend taking the time to search through other social media posts to find the most Instagram-worthy shots to take. When looking back on your vacation, it makes a difference to have that 1 photo that stands out.
As more travelers seek unique lodging options, how have independent properties evolved to meet that demand? Can you give us an example of a particularly unique hotel that is a member of BLLA?
Fran: That’s a tough and loaded question to answer as most of the boutique or lifestyle hotels in BLLA don’t need to evolve as they are built to be unique in the first place. That is why the big chains have been studying their business model over the past 10 years or so and trying to duplicate it. Most of the owners are independent thinkers and is why they can’t follow rules and regulations which would stagnate their creativity and originality, let alone their inspiration, inventiveness, vision and innovation. There are so many examples, but here is a quick one. The Restoration Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, took the design of the entire property into the context of a carefully curated story that was created first and that resonates throughout the guests’ experience including through retail shops, food and beverage and a variety of beautifully themed guestrooms and public spaces. The easiest way to understand is to view their website, www.therestorationhotel.com or better yet, visit!
What is one benefit that BLLA provides its members that may not be recognized as valuable initially, but which you feel is important?
Fran: Membership benefits are sometimes hard to quantify. Our property members in particular understand, over time, that by lending their name and their voice to the BLLA community, that one singular action helps strengthen the message to the world (stronger by numbers) that boutique and lifestyle hotels are here to stay and their importance to hospitality/lodging and the entire guest experience cannot be overlooked. They are what makes the travel world go round and without them, what a boring world it would be.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Ariela: Something that is a personal habit of my entire family, is that we always communicate daily with as many people as possible, no matter what day or holiday it is. We also get the most challenging emails and messages finished first thing in the morning and spend a ton of time strategizing.
What is one strategy that has helped the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association to grow?
Fran: By being authentic, by taking criticism from outside the ‘real’ boutique circle and turning it into opportunity, and by speaking honestly and openly about the strategy of the association and inviting others to contribute.
What do you wish every independent boutique or lifestyle hotelier knew as they consider becoming a member of BLLA?
Fran: We wish they truly understood that BLLA is the safe haven for boutique-minded thinkers and that by joining and participating on committees and other activities including sponsoring an event will truly supply an experience they can’t find elsewhere delivering the exact same outcomes. We truly are living the dream because at the end of the day, we have great satisfaction knowing we are doing everything humanly possible to raise awareness of the boutique lifestyle sector and the needs of each member. We are a family-run association that considers each and every member an integral part of the family, and our members tell us that is one of the things they love about BLLA.
What do you see for the future of boutique hotels and how is BLLA working to shape that future?
Ariela: The future of boutique hotels is endless as we are no longer a trend, but a serious sector in the hotel world that everyone is following. Since creativity is one of the most important qualities in boutique-minded people, I believe the future is staying true to what boutique is yet continuing to thrive by reaching different types of travelers continuously. For example, the hostel revolution (BLLA likes to call it) has changed the way the world sees it due to their new “cool factor.” They are now even a category in the hotel industry we call Creative Boutique. BLLA is the home for categories such as these – that are outside-the-box – and thus we are safe haven for all boutique-minded people. We also help the industry grow through focused boutique education which is key to a successful asset and we do this through our conferences, through an alliance with UCLA and by being a trusted boutique news source. We also help the industry stay together and act as one big family. That may sound strange, but it’s why this sector is different from any other and we are all here to support each other.
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