The first reaction that I usually get when I tell people I’m researching boutique hotel webpages is astonishment followed by the question, “What’s a boutique hotel?” Answering the question isn’t easy because the definition of boutique hotel is controversial. The term has been liberally employed by many hotel operators, which causes confusion and wrong perceptions among tourists. Even though there is no official definition of boutique hotel, many tourism organisations have articulated a set of key properties that attract consumers to boutique accommodation: size (small scale: ranging from 20-150 rooms), architectural design, uniqueness, personalised service, high-tech facilities and value added (in this case, local knowledge that the guests can get from the hotel hosts). After three years of analysing boutique hotel webpages in Thailand and New Zealand, I have found some distinctive language used on these webpages.
In this blog, I will focus on the key words that reflect the identity of boutique hotels in Thailand and New Zealand. Key words are words which occur more frequently than would be expected in a text and show distinctive characteristics of texts. My main objective was to identify a dominant theme or writing style on boutique hotel websites and to explore how the sites in both countries were different from or similar to each other by using keyword lists. The data used in this analysis consist of 131,105 words derived from 50 boutique hotel websites comprising a Thai corpus and 50 websites comprising a New Zealand corpus. I categorised each keyword based on its semantic associations. The semantic categories allow me to infer the emphases of the online advertising of the boutique hotels. They also reveal the similarities and differences in the main marketing focuses in each country in the promotion of their hotels.
There are five semantic categories in the Thai corpus and seven in the New Zealand corpus. There are four main semantic categories, accommodation, facilities, dining experience, and scenery/location, which occur in both corpora. These four categories seem to correspond to the main purposes of hotel advertising texts, which are to promote their accommodation, facilities, restaurants, and location and to persuade their target customers to make a reservation. The keywords in each of the four categories are used to enhance the advertising effect.
The first category is accommodation. Boutique hotels in both countries use the keywords in this category to describe and promote their suites, including their designs, decorations, and the views from the suites. The differences in the use of the keywords show the unique characteristics of boutique hotels in each country. For example, villa only occurs in the Thai corpus, while lodge mainly exists in the New Zealand corpus. These two terms reflect how boutique hotels in each corpus are promoted. Villa refers to a house in the country or close to the sea, which corresponds to the occurrence of the keyword beach in the Thai corpus. Based on the interview information from the hotel owners of the Thai hotels, the word villa is often used to promote boutique hotels because it has a positive connotation of being spacious, luxurious, and secluded. On the other hand, lodge refers to a simple house in the New Zealand countryside.
The second category is facilities. The keywords in this category show the differences in the facilities and services offered by boutique hotels in the two countries. It is unlikely that the adjective heated (as in heated swimming pool) will appear in the Thai hotel corpus because Thailand has a tropical climate, so heated pool may not be an attractive selling point for potential customers of Thai hotels.
The next category is dining experience. The collocations of the keywords show the similarities and differences in the way the web designers use these keywords to promote their restaurant and bars. In the Thai corpus, these keywords are used: Thai food, tropical bar, traditional Thai dishes, and pool bar. On the other hand, in the New Zealand corpus, there is a smaller number of keywords: New Zealand cheese, home-cooked. The interview data with the hotel owners in the New Zealand corpus shows that providing home-cooked meals is one of their marketing strategies to attract the readers’ attention. The hotels use these two phrases to promote local products and home-cooked food, which are likely to be a unique characteristic of New Zealand boutique hotels. Promoting authentic food and local products seems to be congruent with the primary focus of the boutique hotels in the Thai corpus as can be seen in these following examples: Thai food and traditional Thai dishes.
The last category is scenery/location. Interestingly, the key words in the Thai and New Zealand corpora reveal some similarities in terms of emphases on natural sightseeing for a marketing purpose. Examples of the keywords in this category are beach, island, natural, and tropical in the Thai corpus and lake, and New Zealand in the New Zealand corpus. The hotels use these keywords to promote the fact that the hotels are in a good location, where guests can see a lake or beach from their room.
The only pronoun that occurs in the top 50 keyword lists is we. The dominant use of exclusive-we reveals a strong focus on people relationships and interaction, which the hotels aim to construct between the hotels and their web audiences. There are three referents for we: hotels, hosts, and guests. Very often we is used interchangeably to refer to hotels and hosts. The pronoun we has a variety of referents and performs different functions in the New Zealand boutique hotel advertising text. Web designers use we, when referring to hotel accommodation, to achieve three main purposes: 1) describe facilities and services, 2) inform about hotels’ historical backgrounds, and 3) welcome prospective guests to the hotels. The context of we informs the readers which kind of guests we refers to: 1) couples who visit hotels for holidays 2) couples who have a wedding reception, and 3) family who have their holidays at the hotels.
One conjunction appears frequently as a key word in the New Zealand corpus of boutique hotel websites. An example is “The Esplanade Hotel is a haven to escape to at the end of the day sit back or relax in the bar or restaurants and watch the Auckland city lights and harbour activity”. The conjunction or seems to reflect advertising strategies by which hotel offers are introduced to potential guests. The conjunction is also used to promote hotels’ capabilities, persuading potential guests that the hotels can offer a variety of choices to serve their different needs.
After the long discussion of what a boutique hotel is and how it differs between the Thai and New Zealand corpus, the findings of the keyword analysis reveals the unique characteristics/attributes of boutique hotels in terms of the language that they use to promote themselves as a boutique hotel between both countries. These variations are caused by the cultural variations and how the boutique hotels are established and operated.
Thanks to Mark Toomer for his assistance in editing this post.