Chattanooga’s eclectic mix of boutique hotels offer personalized accommodations in Scenic City style

Photography courtesy of Dwell Hotel

What exactly makes a boutique hotel a boutique hotel? That depends on who you ask. Webster's dictionary defines "boutique hotel" as "small and stylish, typically one situated in a fashionable urban location."

But according to Hotel Tech Report (HTR), an online industry publication, there's more to it than that. The number of rooms is a factor (they typically have fewer than 100), but it's also about style and local culture, staff who are trained to provide personalized experience, and on-site amenities.

Typically, boutique hotels are independently-owned, but not always. And as they continue to become more popular, larger brands and chains are are getting in on the trend.

"(Boutique hotels) typically communicate a true sense of place, highlighting and showcasing the culture of the city they're in," says Barry White, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Tourism Co. "That can be done through things like interior design with local art, or references to the brand of the community."

On an average day, he says, Chattanooga has about 43,000 visitors. Of those, about 15,000 spend the night in hotels. Overall, travelers spend an average of $4.1 million per day in lodging, dining, entertainment, shopping and more.

"Growth of boutiques have certainly added to the growth we've seen over the past five or six years," says White. "They support our local business and contribute to the economy and allow us to enjoy amenities. We have more options because of visitors."

The Dwell Hotel

* Number of rooms: 16

* On-site amenities: The Matilda Midnight bar; breakfast in the solarium

* Aesthetic: A swanky take on mid-century modern

There is only one Dwell Hotel in the world and it exists right here in downtown Chattanooga.

The building originally opened in 1909 as The Colonial Inn, later became the Stone Fort Inn, and in 2016 began its third reincarnation as The Dwell. Rooms are completed in mid-century modern furniture, wallpaper and art.

Most everything is vintage from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. And each room has its own theme, like The Tropicana, The Pink Flamingo, The Argyle or the Tiki.

General Manager L'Erin Chidester says The Dwell's target audience is probably Millennials, but it draws guests ranging from their 20s into their 70s. Mainly, she says, the hotel attracts visitors who are looking for a "staycation" -- a mini vacation at home or not far from home.

"Travelers are looking for a unique experience, not just a bed to sleep in," she says. "Even larger chains are figuring this out, which is how we've come to have brands like the Autograph Collections -- subsets of bigger brands."

Within the last year, she has noticed a new trend in booking. Before the pandemic, people would make reservations weeks, if not months, in advance. But now, with travel uncertainty relating to sickness as well as the airlines themselves, people are waiting to make travel commitments.

As for 2023, Chidester says she expects continued growth for The Dwell and boutique hotels, in general.

"Through COVID, we learned that people want something different -- something smaller, unique," she says. "They want the stay to be an experience. I see more unique properties coming. I think travelers are going to continue to seek that."

The Bluff View Inn

* Number of rooms: 16

* On-site amenities: Located within the Bluff View Arts District, next to Rembrandt's Coffee House, Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria, The River Gallery, Bluff View Bakery and Bluff View Sculpture Gardens

* Aesthetic: Historic Chattanooga with a European flair

  photo  Photography courtesy of Bluff View Inn

The Bluff View Inn offers a Chattanooga experience for those who enjoy stepping back in history.

"There is nothing cookie-cutter about The Bluff View Inn," says Courtney Daugherty, director of marketing and wholesale. "We are different and unique. Artistic. We stand alone. We're not part of a chain."

The Inn is made up of three turn-of-the-century homes formerly owned by prominent business leaders: The Maclellan House (1889), the T.C. Thompson House (1908) and the Martin House (1927). During the late 1990s, Dr. Charles and Mary Portera began purchasing the homes as they became available, working to preserve their history and architecture.

The Porteras' efforts eventually led to the development of what is known today as the Bluff View Arts District, an historic neighborhood that includes the Inn, a bakery, a coffee shop, an art gallery and sculpture garden. The area is within a walking distance of The Hunter Art Museum, The Tennessee Aquarium, The Walnut Street Bridge, Coolidge Park and the 12-mile RiverWalk path.

Daugherty says The Inn typically books a lot of "snowbirds," retirees who stop for a night as part of a longer trek in search of more favorable weather. And when the city is holding special events or festivals, they are almost guaranteed to be at full occupancy.

"We offer charm and charisma that can't be found anywhere else," she says. "We strive to preserve the historic stories and architecture of each home. We are kind of frozen in time."

BODE Chattanooga

* Number of rooms: 54 fully-furnished apartment-style rooms

* On-site amenities: Dawn coffee shop; Dusk bar; ongoing programming of games, entertainment and activities

* Aesthetic: Industrial chic meets family friendly

  photo  Photography by Digital Love Photography / BODE Chattanooga

When guests arrive at the BODE Chattanooga, they may notice something missing. There is no front desk -- only Dawn and Dusk, a coffee shop and bar.

BODE is part of a growing trend in hotels, offering a "touchless" check-in process. All interactions are done through digital communication, similar to renting through Airbnb.

"We still have staff members in the lobby and ready to help, but we try to make everything as virtual as possible," says general manager Michael Palmer.

Palmer's theory on why hotels like BODE are on the rise goes back to COVID. The touchless process is a result of the need to adapt and overcome, he says.

"In my opinion, instead of going to a normal bar or hotel, they want an adventure," he says. "They want something not so formatted. Not the same thing they've always had."

There are two BODE hotels in the world -- one in Chattanooga and one in Nashville. Also similar to Airbnb rentals, the units can be booked as long-term stays. Rooms come fully furnished with a complete kitchen and two bathrooms.

As part of the curated experience, staff members constantly plan new events and activities to offer guests. Each week, the hotel offers a variety of music, comedy and other activities.

"When people visit traditional hotels and walk into the room, they're thinking about sleeping there. And that's about it," Palmer says. But BODE is more about the experience.

"Here, you're cooking and spending time. We have pool tables and ping pong tables in the rooms. And that was our goal, to make the rooms and staying on property more desirable."

The Edwin Hotel

* Number of rooms: 90

* On-site amenities: The Whiskey Thief rooftop lounge, Whitebird farm-to-table regional fine dining, and Provisions coffee shop

* Aesthetic: Luxurious Chattanooga with a focus on the arts

  photo  Photography courtesy of The Edwin Hotel

Bill Simmons, general manager at The Edwin Hotel, worked in both Nashville and Santa Monica hotel markets before moving to Chattanooga. No matter the city -- guests are seeking out a distinctive cultural experience, he says.

"People are looking for a non-cookie cutter," says Simmons. "They want a curated experience, whether it's through art in a lobby or cool guest rooms or a craft cocktail that's not offered anywhere else.

"We're all about storytelling. Everything we do has a purpose. Our staff is trained to talk about everything. Even something like our butterfly wall in the front lobby area has a deep meaning."

The butterfly wall, to the left of the check-in desk in the front lobby, is a geographical representation of the Tennessee River and a metaphor for the rebirth of Chattanooga. Look closely and you'll see that each butterfly is made of historical images, a symbol of the city's industrial beginnings. A single gold pin marks Chattanooga's location on the river.

The whole hotel is like that, says Simmons. Even the Whitebird restaurant has stories to tell, offering a modern Appalachian menu, with Southern cuisine sourced from local farms.

The Edwin is part of the Marriott Hotels' Autograph Collection and is owned locally by Vision Hospitality. The majority of its business comes through corporate accounts throughout the week, but it's also a destination for couples wanting to get away for the weekend.

"I think as Chattanooga grows as a whole, that will help all hotels," he says. "But I do think there is an influx of guests who want something they can't find in, say, Birmingham, or any other city. They want something that's true to Chattanooga, but an elevated experience as well."

The Kinley

* Number of rooms: 64

* On-site amenities: The Exchange coffee shop; Company dining room and speakeasy

* Aesthetic: Modern sophistication meets "come as you are" casual

  photo  Photography courtesy of The Kinley

Hannah McCaslin, sales manager at The Kinley, says that the next generation of travelers is looking for a cultural experience.

"I think it has to do with wanting to experience vacation to the fullest," she says. "It has to do with value. People are spending X amount of dollars to travel somewhere, and they want to be immersed in the city, the culture, the people; so they feel like they got a bang for their buck."

The Kinley is locally owned by Vision Hospitality, as a sub-brand of Marriott International. McCaslin says the hotel's guests tend to be business travelers, typically aged 40 and up. They also host social events such as wedding parties and "girls' night out" groups.

Staff are trained to be knowledgeable about "all things Chattanooga" -- whether that's a current list of events and festivals, or knowing just the right restaurant to meet guests' needs.

At The Kinley, guests don't have to look far to find "the Chattanooga experience." The hotel sits across the street from one of city's most iconic landmarks -- the historic Civil War-era train station known as The Chattanooga Choo Choo. Today, the station is home to some of the city's most popular restaurants, businesses and clubs.

"I think the younger generation is looking to be immersed in the culture," says McCaslin. "They want to really experience it. They want to get the most out of the trip, to experience why they visited a place, learn about the history. They don't want to go to chains because you can get that anywhere."

The Moxy

* Number of rooms: 108

* On-site amenities: Front desk that pulls double-duty as a kitchen and bar; shared space with locally-owned Up Down Coffee Bar; Friday and Saturday night food trucks

* Aesthetic: Urban energetic

  photo  Photography by Jennifer McNally / The Moxy

The Moxy is maybe Chattanooga's most "Instagrammable" hotel. And that's no accident.

"Every ounce of the hotel, from start to finish, was designed with experience in mind," says general manager Kasey Swindell. "Our goal is to invite guests to play in Chattanooga, and transform business travel into a fun experience, not just a necessary one. And we want to enhance the leisure travel experience in the city."

The Moxy is part of Bonvoy, a subset of Marriot International, and owned locally. While it has locations around the world, each is designed to reflect the one-of-a-kind character of its city.

The hotel works to attract "fun hunters," says Swindell -- travelers who are in search of what's cool and new. They tend to be "foodies," music lovers, cocktail connoisseurs, and people interested in art.

"The next generation of traveler is looking for a better balance of work and play," Swindell says. "If you've got to be on the road for work, it doesn't have to be sterile. It can be a great experience while you knock out work."

The Moxy is also unusual in that it's another hotel that handles all money interactions electronically. It's also known for streamlining job responsibilities.

"The genius of the brand is that we can operate on a slim staff and still keep all of our services to customers," she says. "When you check in, the front desk agent is also the bartender and the cook. So we can offer all services 24/7 with one staff member in place."

While some may see the "Instagram factor" as youthful and frivolous, Swindell says it's proven to be a powerful advertising tool. Social media helps connect the Moxy with other local businesses and provide visitors with a bigger, better picture of Chattanooga.

"Instagram and our connection to the local market is crucial," she says. "We utilize the stories and highlights features, along with Facebook, to promote our activities.

"It goes back to intentionally designing the space for experience. You should be able to take a photo pretty much anywhere and have it be Instagram-worthy -- bright, fun, modern, energetic."


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