“Our collection includes hidden gems, ‘unknown’ small independent hotels in the Mediterranean that offer memorable stays,” Rim Jourdan, the CEO of The Boutique Vibe, replied when asked to describe the portfolio of the company.
The first collection of boutique hotels in the Mediterranean, The Boutique Vibe launched in 2020 with a mission to find small hotels with a story and help them reach more travelers that are looking for authentic experiences.
“We handpick small, independently managed hotels, striving to deliver a unique, sustainable experience to each of their guests while preserving their traditional Mediterranean character,” Rim tells GTP Headlines, adding that the company’s hotel partners do not just offer just “another room” to travelers.
Having become valuable partners to a number of hotels in the Mediterranean, The Boutique Vibe monitors their booking trends, business sentiment, list of priorities and pain points, focus areas, and investment readiness.
The company’s CEO is also quick to highlight that The Boutique Vibe “is not another” Online Travel Agency.
“We are not another OTA. We don’t want to be yet another intermediate that captures value and attempts to control the distribution landscape, leaving the hotels behind,” she underlines.
‘We are heavily invested in Greece’
“The Greek hotel community adjusted faster to this pandemic. Maybe it’s a national characteristic, or maybe the Greeks developed new skills and a thicker skin over the past 10 years of financial crisis and austerity – whatever it was, it worked wonderfully.”
With regard to the Greek market, Rim was happy to announce The Boutique Vibe’s recent addition of its 30th hotel partner in Greece. “We are heavily invested in Greece and will continue to do so… We are always on the look for unique properties to join our collection,” she said.
Speaking of the Greek market, Rim pointed out that Greece managed to rebound during the Covid-19 pandemic faster than others across the Med.
“Dare I say that Greece managed to recover fast than most destinations across the world,” she said, adding that in Summer 2021, the industry needed more ‘Greek mentality’ around the world. “We could have salvaged part of the season for more countries,” Rim highlighted.
In this interview, Rim gives GTP Headlines a full introduction of The Boutique Vibe and explains the process for properties to be included in the company’s portfolio. She also tells us what she sees in the future for Greece and gives interesting data on the progress of the Med’s hospitality sector based on facts given by The Boutique Vibe’s hotel partners.
- GTP: Rim, please share some career highlights with our readers.
Rim Jourdan: Nikos, firstly allow me to state how excited I am to speak with you and address your audience. Even since my aviation days, I have been following GTP news. I guess I am what some people would call a ‘seasoned’ but fresh travel professional. I started my career in Paris (France) in the technology area and quickly decided to follow my passion for travel and joined the travel industry back in 2006 with Air France-KLM. I held multiple roles, across the business, operations, and customer relationship management. In 2013 I moved to the United Arab Emirates when I joined what it was at the time one of the fastest-growing travel brands in the world, Etihad, leading projects for the airline’s brand and strategy and the travel distribution subsidiary. In addition to that, I’ve helped various advisory roles with small travel brands.
- GTP: Please “introduce” The Boutique Vibe to us. How did you decide to venture into it? What was your inspiration for the company’s focus?
Rim Jourdan: My desire for continuous education and my passion to reinvent myself lead me to join INSEAD, the world’s best Business School, in 2017. After a transformative year with them, I decided to leave my corporate ‘safety net’ and set up a business platform that fulfills my true passion.
The Boutique Vibe is the first collection of boutique hotels in the Mediterranean. We handpick small, independently managed hotels, striving to deliver a unique, sustainable experience to each of their guests while preserving their traditional Mediterranean character.
The problem was quite clear to us: as frequent travelers, my cofounders and I were traveling around the world, staying at branded hotel chains, paying top rates, and getting “standardized” services, whilst, our most memorable stays were always offered by “unknown” small independent hotels. We took a whole year researching the segment and speaking to travelers and hoteliers, to verify our hypothesis, during which we identified that the issue for hoteliers is even bigger. Small, independently managed properties were struggling. Low visibility and competitiveness, low negotiating power, and two large dominant re-sellers holding them ‘hostages’ to high commissions.
We had to step in, that was our calling.
- GTP: Why does The Boutique Vibe focus on the countries that surround the Mediterranean?
Rim Jourdan: Our focus on the Mediterranean region was based on two simple facts we are part of this region we were born and raised in it and we know the quality of services that the small boutique hotels can offer. The second reason is that the Mediterranean region has one of the highest concentrations of small independently managed properties in the world.
- GTP: Does The Boutique Vibe fill a gap in the hospitality market? What benefits do properties get from being a part of The Boutique Vibe collection?
Rim Jourdan: Yes, we strongly believe we step in and attempt to close the gap. Here’s what we are not. We are not another OTA. We don’t want to be yet another intermediately that captures value and attempts to control the distribution landscape, leaving the hotels behind.
We attempt to bring the hotel to the forefront of the discussion. All of our customers have invested resources, time, and love to build unique experiences. In parallel they continue to invest carefully in the online space, attempting to gain visibility and increase the percentage of direct bookings they get. Why would they leave 15-20% of value to large re-sellers? Purely for blending their properties with large chain hotels and other irrelevant offerings and prompting them to drop their prices?
We become a storefront for the most unique boutique properties across the Med. We ‘sell’ on quality and total value and not on price. We redirect the traffic from our platform directly to hotels and enable them to capture the customer under their terms.
As an owner of an independent boutique hotel in the Mediterranean region, you will gain visibility, we will help you reach more travelers that are looking for authentic experiences and we will make sure that your boutique hotel is fully represented for their real value proposition while preserving your identity.
- GTP: What is the process for properties to be included in The Boutique Vibe portfolio? How do you select hotels? What constitutes a ‘true’ boutique hotel for you?
Rim Jourdan: We handpick our hotel partners. Before the pandemic, we had travel consultants visiting places all over the Med, looking for the best partners. Unfortunately, COVID messed up our plans. We moved all this process online. We spend significant time researching the hotels, reading the reviews, talking to the hoteliers. We don’t go just for anybody who wants to list on our website.
A true boutique hotel for us has these 4 characteristics :
• Local: it must have a deep connection with the local community and culture
• Independent: Managed independently and not a part of a chain of hotels
• Sustainable: It should care about the environment and implement sustainable process
• Small: A limited number of rooms and suites to be able to deliver a personalized experience to its guests.
We don’t compromise on those characteristics.
Ever since we officially launched our online platform, we are also open to receiving applications. We follow the same process for them. At this moment approximately 25% of our hotel partners are coming through applications. The rest of our hidden gems that we discover.
- GTP: We are having this interview in the Covid-19 era – a time quite challenging for the hospitality industry. How do you see the sector progressing?
Rim Jourdan: You are right. It has been challenging for a long time. I think the worst is behind us now. Hoteliers who managed to navigate the pandemic successfully will now have a chance to recover faster and win more business than before. At the Boutique Vibe, we believe that personal opinions are ‘nice to have but we rely on data to help our customers make the right decisions. Ever since the early days of the pandemic, we decided to allocate marketing budget and resources to run quarterly surveys measuring the sentiment of small hotels across the Med. We monitor their booking trends, business sentiment, list of priorities and pain points, focus areas, and investment readiness.
Here’s what we learned this October: a staggering 56% of the hoteliers see radical improvement in forwarding bookings. Compared to the same time last year, it is worth noticing that back in July that number was merely at 32%. The same is reflected in the hoteliers’ optimism about the future, with 54% of them have a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ outlook for the future, once again an increase over July’s numbers. When it comes to investment, almost 50% of the hoteliers responded that they plan at least some minor investment in their properties, while 17% is planning significant investment over $50,000. Finally, when it comes to their top business concerns, the softening of the global economies is taking a back seat with just 20% of their responders placing as their number one issue. Operational excellence and focus top the list this October, with nearly 1 out of 3 hoteliers mentioning it as their main pain point.
- GTP: What’s the sentiment of hoteliers right now? When you speak to them, what’s their biggest challenge?
Rim Jourdan: Over and above the data we report from our barometer we also collect insights directly from the hoteliers, as we talk to them daily. Despite the overarching positive outlook and optimism of Greek hoteliers, there are more than a few challenges that keep them ‘up at night’.
Firstly, the ever-changing customer expectations and evolving traveler behavior. Hoteliers are facing a surge in last-minute demand, making advance booking pricing strategies obsolete, and last-minute cancelations as the border crossing is still a challenge for many travelers. In addition to that, hoteliers must develop relevant products and communication for new markets and segments, this is where the selection of the right partner comes into play. For example, at The Boutique Vibe we have been focusing on the growing travel segment coming from The Middle East, our hotel partners enjoyed traffic and reservations from key markets like UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar during the summer period. Finally, we see an increased demand for ‘staycations’ and an expansion of the average length of stay, as travelers commit to a location for longer once they decide to visit.
- GTP: I’d like to move on to Greece. Your latest 2021 Boutique Hotel Barometer saw hotels in Greece to be recovering faster than the average in the Mediterranean region. How do you explain this development?
Rim Jourdan: You are correct Nikos. Greece managed to rebound faster than others across the Med, and dare I say that Greece managed to recover fast than most destinations across the world. While we’ve been observing more and more borders closing and travel complexity increasing the Greek government took bold steps to address those issues. At the same time, the Greek travel community acted in a coordinated and mature manner. Our hotel customers were ready with all the appropriate measures, clear communication, flexible refund policies, and a ‘can-do attitude. This made a massive difference. The Greek hotel community adjusted faster to this pandemic. Maybe it’s a national characteristic, or maybe the Greeks developed new skills and a thicker skin over the past 10 years of financial crisis and austerity – whatever it was, it worked wonderfully. On the other hand, the government actively supported that. They engaged with the travel community early on, giving indications of the market reopening as soon as Easter 2021. That created awareness and put the destination into the consideration set of travelers from East, West, and across Europe. They prioritized vaccination of front-line staff in travel and hospitality, which lead to an increased readiness to accept international travelers. They engaged with the airline & travel association, listened to their needs, and addressed them. At the same time, they reacted fast in cases where protocols and rules were not followed. I don’t want to sound like I am beating the government’s drum, I don’t. They could have delivered more. But in Summer 2021, we needed more ‘Greek mentality’ around the world. We could have salvaged part of the season for more countries.
- GTP: What does The Boutique Vibe see in the future for Greece? What would your message be to Greek hoteliers in these times?
Rim Jourdan: We are very bullish on the future of Greek tourism. The country has so much more to offer than summer. Yes, summer in Greece is truly magnificent – probably one of the top choices globally. But Greek hospitality extends further than that. Amazing city hotels, allowing guests to explore some of the most amazing cities one can find across Europe. Gorgeous winter locations, up in the Greek mountains. Yes, Greece has over 220 islands, but I am not sure people know that over 80% of the Greek mainland is covered by mountains. Guests can discover a new version of Greece even in the ‘off-season.
My message to Greek hoteliers is to continue working hard offering the best travel product they can do. Focus on the customer and continue to offer those unique, local, amazing experiences that can’t be found elsewhere.
On the business front, Greek hoteliers should invest more in their brand and reduce their dependencies on large re-sellers. We talk with hoteliers, daily, that offer work-class products and experiences that would value way above their current selling prices. Diversify your mix and focus on the right partnership to target the customer that you truly want. Not just any customer.
As for The Boutique Vibe, we are heavily invested in Greece and will continue to do so. We recently celebrated our 30th hotel partner in Greece and we are always on the look for unique properties to join our collection.
- GTP: What concerns do you have as a professional in the hospitality industry? If you could change anything in hospitality, what would you change right now?
Rim Jourdan: If I could change anything in hospitality right now; that would be the dependency that many hotels have developed on one or two re-sellers. While it was proven ‘easy’ and reliable before the pandemic we no longer have the luxury to consider that. This is where The Boutique Vibe steps in. We want to help curious travelers find exactly what they want, and at the same time enable unique, sustainable, local hotels to market their product for what it truly is. No, our hotel partners do not just offer just another room. We want to bring those unique characteristics to the forefront and market them successfully to the audiences that care about them and are willing to pay the right price for them.
- GTP: What are The Boutique Vibe’s plans? What is your next focus?
Rim Jourdan: Right now we are close to securing another round of investment that will help us accelerate our efforts in the coming 12 to 18 months. Despite popular belief, we have seen significant interest from investors in our business – and this is all thanks to our customers and our sharp focus on their needs.
In 2022, we want to focus on two key pillars: expansion of our services and sustainability.
When it comes to our services, we have an aspirational plan for the improvement of our platform, improving the user experience, and bringing even more unique selling points from the hotels into The Boutique Vibe. We will remain committed to our mission; we are not and we will not become another Online Travel Agency. Our focus will be on offer new digital services to hoteliers and capturing more commercial and behavioral data that we will translate into actionable insights for them.
When it comes to our focus on sustainability, we want to take this a step further. Our target audiences care about sustainable properties, and we want to bring this to the forefront. The paradox here is that most of our hotel partners naturally do things that will add to this but don’t communicate about them. From sustainable building, energy sources, products, and food to preserving the local identity and support their communities – our hotel partners are truly the epitome of sustainability. We want to support the hoteliers to develop even further their sustainable character and communicate it properly to the right audiences. Eventually, this will become a point of differentiation and will give sustainable Boutique Hotels a competitive advantage compared to large hotel chains.