First let me disclose that I am European so I am biased but I will try my very best to stay neutral in this topic as much as I can.
I hear it from American travelers all the time that boutique hotels in Europe don’t have elevators and air conditioning and now I just added a new concern to this list, according to American travel agents boutique hotels cannot accommodate large groups.
First, I would need to know what a large group is but there is more than one boutique hotel in every town; it takes no time to google their locations and drop off groups of tourists in multiple places, a short walking distance away. I know it takes more work to coordinate it but no big deal (for me at least).
I always say there are two kinds of travelers: the one who travels in style and the one who travels on a budget. If chain hotels are your only options due to comfort you will never get out of a city and discover a national park, tour a jungle, get close to a volcano, take a safari, track gorillas or polar bears, climb a mountain, stay in a castle and the list goes on.
On air conditioning: you only need air conditioning in the summer months but we are not talking about developing, third world countries here. In Europe you don’t need AC everywhere, like in Scandinavian countries or high elevation of a mountain. Also, please note that European houses are made of bricks or stones and since most homes have a concrete foundation their insulation is so much better than the American homes. That being said European houses can stay cooler in the summer months and warmer in the winter.
Finding air conditioned hotel rooms in Europe is not hard at all, you just need to read the list of amenities the same way you check if there is breakfast or wifi at the property. Keep in mind that our boutique hotels are not centrally air conditioned; we love the European Ductless System (EDS) where a small unit is placed on the wall in each room, operated by a remote control. This is very energy efficient, easy and cheap to maintain and the best of all, it is healthier than the American system since you don’t breathe in dust and bacteria, safe for people with different allergies and sensitivities. I moved to the USA 20+ years ago but I still catch a cold in the summer months just by walking in and out of heavily air conditioned places (house, car, work, offices, stores, etc) so I ended up installing an EDS at my lodge in the Virginian mountains.
I was in Algarve, Portugal where temperatures were around 85F but it did not feel that high due to the sea breeze; we just opened our windows and used ceiling fans. I kind of like it better, still remember how the sheer drapes were dancing in the breeze in our living room; way better than sitting in freezing temperatures looking at the beach.
Another example: I went to the southern region of Turkey and stayed in a cave hotel in Cappadokia. Cave hotels are carved into a mountain or are underground. I guarantee you won’t need AC here either!! For the record you are not going to find a chain hotel in this region, furthermore, if you don’t book your cave hotel early, it will get sold out in no time since these hotels don’t have many rooms.
About elevators: Yes, most boutique hotels don’t have elevators so please read the property amenities. Our buildings are small and old but these hotels are not skyscrapers. Europeans don’t mind taking stairs but most hotels have porters who are glad to take your luggage up to the 4th floor for a couple of Euros (you tip porters in chain hotels too, at least I hope you do); anyway, boutique hotels do not get taller than that.
If you are staying in a medieval town you may not be allowed to drive into historic downtown (these are designated pedestrian zones) so you will need to park your car elsewhere and walk to your hotel while dragging your luggage with you on cobblestone streets. That is not the end of the world, your luggage suffers a bigger damage just by being thrown around by airline baggage handles. Walking in Europe is fun and is “part of the package” in case I am telling you something new today. Walking anywhere is a must; you can’t avoid it. Here is a true story for you: It took McDonalds over 6 years to be able to purchase a historic building in downtown Eger, Hungary because their large trucks would not fit these tight streets, never mind turning. There was also a risk that the cobblestone streets would get damaged from letting heavy trucks in but eventually they settled a deal preserving the town.
Venice, Italy would be another location where you would have hard time finding chain hotels since the city is built on canals but what is wrong with boutique hotels here?
Chain hotels: While they are widely known standard hotels, they all look alike. It happens a lot even in high end chain hotels that the sheets are not clean, the cups are not washed, the mattress is bed bug infested, the storage room and dumpster has roaches and mice. There are luxury chain hotels as well but not many can afford that. Boutique hotels will have problems too but the innkeepers are just taking a better care of their own property and do it with pride and certainly quicker to fix anything; it may happen that the innkeeper is also a handyman or somebody in his immediate family.
When you stay in a small hotel and dine in their establishment you get personalized service and make friends with the innkeeper and other guests. You support local businesses that way versus staying in a chain hotel feeding the pockets of large corporates who don’t even live in the country you are visiting.
It is important where you stay at night, it adds fun to your trip. Try to make it outstanding by staying in a historic or unique boutique hotel in Europe, or an eco lodge in Bali, an ice hotel in Canada, a glass dome in Scandinavian countries, a cave hotel in Turkey, a tree lodge in Africa or a ski lodge in the Alps. You can spend a night on a historic train in Russia, a bullet train in Finland, a glass top train in Alaska or the Shinkanzen train in Japan! Make memories that last!
Clarification: once a chain hotel gets sold the franchise rules with its expected standards no longer apply!
In summary: you need to be comfortable when you travel but you also need to adjust a little bit to the country you are visiting or the activities you signed up for. The world does not spin around you but you can make it comfortable and enjoyable in many ways. Do your research before paying for a hotel so there are no surprises or ask a travel agent to help you.
Travel agents make money by earning a commission on sales. Boutique hotels may not cost as much as chain hotels and definitely don’t pay as much commission as chain hotels do (some are not even affiliated with travel agents at all so those don’t get offered) but if your travel agent talks you out of staying in a boutique hotel contact me, I’m not one of those travel agents who offers you hotels based on commission rates.