Interview With Ariela & Frances Kiradjian | Stay Boutique
- Briefly introduce both yourselves in your own words.
Well my Instagram @arielakiradjian bio says “leader in the boutique community Co-Founder, Stay BoutiqueCOO, BLLA, Located in New York City. Past Residencies in the UK & Germany.” Outside of my social media bio, I am a 22 year old woman who grew up in the beautiful city of Los Angeles and I have dedicated my life to the boutique community (it also helps when you totally love your job)! I have a huge interest for the fashion world and enjoy learning about this industry in my spare time. My favorite movie is The Da Vinci Code and my favorite TV show is Gossip Girl (I’m really not embarrassed to say that).
I love being a mom, grandma, sister, wife and BFF first and foremost. Family and true friendships are most important in life in my estimation. (We do call our members ‘family’ after all.) I have always been an entrepreneur although didn’t realize it until given the opportunity to birth a new brand in 1993. Rebel is something I can relate to as I’m not one to easily accept borders and rules; similar to the luxury hoteliers I meet globally every day. I love the creative process and I’m not afraid to venture into the unknown to try something new or be the visionary leader for a particular cause. Strength of will was inherited and I carry the badge proudly as I forge new paths for the association and the industries we represent.
- You are based in Los Angeles. What inspires you the most from this city?
I actually recently moved to New York City to expand our organization! I’m so obsessed with the city because it’s filled with motivating and inspiring people. LA is more entertainment industry oriented while NY is more accepting of other creative industries and hence it’s way more my style! The respect of entrepreneurs makes me feel so accepted here. I also love that it’s so much closer to Europe (I went to school over there) and seems to have a huge international population. While I do love my Jeep back home in LA, I have more fun walking and getting lost in the streets in NY (I find it to be weird and hard to “get lost” purposefully while driving in the streets of LA). What’s also pretty cool is how my office are all the lobbies of cool boutique hotels-I’m one of those people that can’t work at the same place everyday with the four same walls…I have to get inspired and am super picky about this. (I’m a Millennial that way- what can I say!)
The things that immediately come to mind are Hollywood, sunshine, freedom, melting pot and love of life. People smile more here than anywhere. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the positive energy that comes from following the Kardashians and their love of family to shopping and eating in Beverly Hills to attending Pepperdine University which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. All these things contribute to a life well lived, notwithstanding the other things that balance you out like religion, health, giving back and happiness.
- How did your passion for luxury hospitality start?
Well, I grew up with my mother being one of the biggest leaders in the travel industry. I remember going to my first hospitality event at age 5 in Hollywood and my first conference at age six in San Francisco. So, I started networking at a very young age to say the least. My mom was always a trail blazer- disruption is in our blood, we’re fearless. I traveled around the world since birth, so have been exposed to the most fantastic hotels, F&B and airlines. Back in the day, travel agents were seriously treated like celebrities (today, travel bloggers get that kind of treatment instead) so I was always expected to be wined and dined everywhere and this is really what gave me a taste of true luxury. Things changed though when my mother started BLLA in 2009- we realized a huge shift in hospitality with the growth of boutique hotels and completely went against everything everyone told us (like “you’re crazy for believing in boutique- they make no money!”) Of course, come 2017 we were obviously right about the power boutique would have.
It started when I was introduced to the travel industry back in 1987. I had a position that allowed me to experience the world’s best hotels and experiences including first class travel. It was there that luxury felt good and while it has ebbed and flowed over the years, I think it’s something that most can appreciate once they’re experienced it. There is a time and place for everything and luxury is not necessarily the right thing for every single day.
Luxury Hospitality Industry
How would you define the luxury hospitality industry now and how do you envision its future?
In today’s world, I define luxury hospitality by answering ‘how did that experience make you feel?’ Since we all have our own definitions of luxury, hotels need to attempt to create that experience from every touch point whether it is digital or physically present. If you send out an email, make sure it not only looks awesome but is personal and personalized. Everything is in the details which takes time and focus!
- What is BLLA and what is the purpose behind it?
BLLA is the official association for the Boutique & Lifestyle community. My mother started this association back in 2009 when no one believed in boutique and refused to develop and invest in these special properties and concepts. It really wasn’t until Frances Kiradjian fought for these hotels to be taken seriously in the hospitality industry that boutique is where it’s at today! I like to call her “the silent hero of boutique.” She’s really humble about all of her work so I always like to make sure to mention the amount of blood, sweat and tears she put in to help boutique hotels. This included a huge amount of sacrifice in her reputation- back when she started BLLA she got countless phone calls of people basically calling her a joke because she was standing up for boutique and she stayed true and acted so professional and just kept saying “you’ll see.”
We have a membership base of 1,000 unique hotels and vendors that all have BLLA’s “stamp of boutique-approval.” Although this year we changed up the hospitality game and declared in October that “boutique is not just a hotel, it’s an experience & any industry can join the community.” Thus, we are now opening our doors to all boutique entities whether that be a hotel, restaurant, bar, fitness studio, retail store, fashion brand and such. We did something a bit crazy at our Leadership Conference this past October where we barely talked about hotels and instead talked about what inspires the boutique-thinker (we had Founders & CEOs of amazing boutique brands like Jonas Tahlin of Absolut Elyx, Rosie O’Neill of Sugarfina, John Terzian of h.wood Group and Sue Walter of the Hospital Club). This is what I like to tell people about BLLA: we’re not afraid to disrupt, we thrive off of that.
- How would you describe the members of BLLA? What kind of memberships you offer?
Our membership categories include hotels, suppliers and vendors who offer products and services, interior designers and architects, hospitality management and development organizations, travel industry agencies and vendors and corporate travel executives.Membership has recently expanded to include other verticals within the boutique lifestyle space such as bars, restaurants, nightlife, wellness, retail and more that embody the definitions of boutique and unique.
- What is the process to become a member of BLLA?
Membership is open to anyone that desires to become an official BLLA member. However, BLLA has the final decision on which hotels will be included in the Stay-Boutique.com booking site as well as which vendors will be displayed on its BLLAGrandBazaar.com site. This process includes an approval procedure.
- What are the benefits BLLA creates for both, the luxury hospitality industry and its consumers?
BLLA provides recognition and status for members. Consumers can rely on BLLA to properly vet properties that fit in the boutique lifestyle space using a proprietary algorithm as well as some sense of assurance that the association is an official organization that continuously works to vet and ultimately endorse any hotels or vendors that it showcases on its official sites. It makes no guarantees but does promise to institute a method of communication between the b2b and b2c communities.
- What is Stay Boutique?
Stay Boutique is the inspiration platform and the source of movement for the boutique community. We are the face of boutique.
There are 2 parts to SB
1. We will hold the official list of boutique hotels in the world because we’re sick and tired of people mis-using the word boutique. Boutique doesn’t equal small anymore, it equals a special experience. We will also have a booking button for travelers to book directly onto the hotel’s booking platform.
2. We will also have a media & events side that will host fun content that is relevant to the boutique-thinker through articles, videos and photos and we will host boutique-minded events like our LA Leadership Conference and our invite-only social dinner club.
- Does Stay Boutique come as a natural extension of BLLA? What is the connection between those two organizations?
This is how I explained it during my speech at our LA Conference:
BLLA = LVMH
Stay Boutique = Louis Vuitton
BLLA is the core and Stay Boutique is brand off of BLLA. BLLA is more centered towards the hospitality industry while Stay Boutique is our cool brand for both the traveler and the people in boutique-oriented industries. Stay Boutique isn’t the only brand we have, there’s also the Grand Bazaar (a shopping platform for boutique hotels) and BLLA Events (our industry conferences).
As described above, we use a proprietary algorithm to select the properties. There is still work to be done as we are now including some of the soft-brands that are made up of independent luxury boutique hotels.
- How would you describe the Stay Boutique experience?
The Stay Boutique experience is everything outside of what you would view as a normal hotel stay. This is where experience comes first and beds come second. (If they just wanted a bed they would go to Airbnb or the local cheap loyalty point hotel down the street). The guests come to an SB hotel to gain memories that they couldn’t get elsewhere and more importantly they want the ability to be able to capture these memories and share it on their social accounts. We have a very special list that we will be sharing in 2018 that finally defines what a boutique hotel actually is so stay tuned!
- What are the values behind Stay Boutique as a brand?
We value the disruptors and unique minds who think in the boutique mindset. Our goal is to make the hospitality industry as culturally relevant as the fashion industry. We think it’s time for the world to view hospitality as not just traditional or luxurious but also an industry that is cool and creative and values individuality.
Way of Living
- Would you define Stay Boutique as a general lifestyle statement? How this translates into your own way of living?
Oh, totally! Stay Boutique has a dual meaning:
1. To literally stay/ sleep in a boutique hotel.
2. To stay/ keep in the boutique way of life.
I don’t think my mother and I could dedicate our careers to boutique without being obsessed with the niche. Our whole world revolves around the dual meaning of Stay Boutique. We’re constantly researching boutique hotels, visiting them and finding boutique retailers, fitness studios and F & B entities too. We’re always meeting with up & coming brands and leaders who are helping shape our industry. In my own life, I’m always looking for the boutique-type entities whether that be an up & coming design who only has a little pop-up shop or a 2 studio fitness brand who values community over everything else or a vegan restaurant who’s owner is constantly researching the top health trends to try and make the world a healthier place. It’s SO obvious when an owner is really hands on and has a huge love for his/her business and it’s SO obvious when an owner is only in it for money. I think you can guess which type of owners I can’t stand.
At our upcoming Boutique Hotel Investment Conference in NYC on June 6th our theme is how have companies from other industries have become both profitable and influential. What’s amazing about the times we live in is that you can’t just be a business person in it for money, you must also have an influential part to your company (making an impact in the world no matter how small it is).
To add to the above – I love the American Express Shop Small Saturday message as it translates beautifully into the Stay Boutique message. Ariela and I prefer to shop in the small boutiques although we sometimes venture off to one of the other brands that may carry small, uniquely designed items. Small businesses like boutique hotels and boutique shops are what makes the world go round!
- Tell us about Stay Boutique Magazine…
This is my baby, literally! Stay Boutique Magazine is a part of Stay Boutique Media (stayboutiquemedia.com). We started our first magazine edition in the fall of 2016 at our LA conference as an experiment to see if print was “still alive” in boutique and wow, it sure is! The response we got was amazing and we realized that a cool magazine was desperately needed in the hospitality industry and something that was focused on boutique.
We expect the magazine to have long legs that will walk alongside design, fashion, food, fitness and more. There is keen interest among some really important publications to take it to the next level.
- Mom and daughter co-creating together. How do you find the balance between your professional and personal life? What is your favorite ritual to reconnect to yourself?
I LOVE working with my mother. When I first started having a leadership role in BLLA I wasn’t sure how this would pan out, but what we’ve realized is that we’re nothing without the other. We were having lunch with my sister one sunny summer day (by the way, she’s also an entrepreneur) and she looks at us intently and goes “you know what? Mom, you keep things competitive and Ariela, you keep things fresh- what a duo!” It’s so true though, we are a true team and together we’re reinventing the hospitality industry. I think the best part about working with my mom is that I’m never alone- through the bad times, I have a shoulder to cry on and through the good times, I have someone who is truly happy for me. The day before I moved to NY my mom nearly broke my heart! She takes my hand and says “I don’t want you to go, no one understands me like you do.” We are literally like two halves put together, no one understand us and the love we have for the boutique community. Thankfully, she added a last snippet of “baby you’re going to kill it in NY!”
On a funny note, my family and I are SUPER close- like I still hold hands with my parents in public, it’s a very normal thing for us. Whenever my mom and I go to conferences together, out of habit I grab her hand as we’re walking and she always has to tug her hand away abruptly and whisper “Ariela you know this looks weird!” It’s also a mother-daughter argument over this because my mentality is “I don’t care!” Also, my mother always copies my style aka she bought the same pair of Miu Miu sneakers as me and wore them the same day I wore mine to a conference! It ended up being a plus because it was the best conversation starter (mind you, these sneakers had huge rhinestones so we were blinding people).
Now the balance question- it’s nearly impossible to balance that. We’ve completely mixed our business partnership with our mother-daughter relationship and it’s actually amazing. We talk business constantly and it’s not like we get tired of talking about it- it’s exciting! We used to have our Sunday tradition where we would go to the beach and brainstorm on where boutique is headed- those sessions are so powerful. What my mother and I have is definitely something rare and special-we can both grow our business partnership and grow closer as mother-daughter. We were meant to be a duo, that’s for sure.
For me to reconnect myself is through fitness- it’s the best way to re-set. I’ll also browse through Net-a-Porter and Maxfield on the “What’s New This Week” section to give my mind a break. Now in NYC, I’ll just stroll around the city listening to The Beatles and people watch- that’s actually my favorite thing to do!
It has been an amazing experience to have a partner who is also your precious daughter. My ulterior motives always come into play. As a mother, I want to ensure my child is able to fly like a bird and develop into a human being that contributes positively to the world and that is able to thrive by working in an industry that is thrilling, ever-changing and opportunistic. From a business perspective, she brings a fresh, new, young perspective to the association/business and is able to build onto what I believe is a very solid foundation rooted in strong principles and causes that champion independents and other entrepreneurs around the world. My favorite ritual to reconnect is to travel somewhere to have a little downtime by myself, whether that is to attend an event in the city or to fly somewhere to a conference or meeting. Whether in the car or on a plane, music is my best companion. Additionally, it is to get together with my best friends to reminisce and pretend we’re 13 again.
- Do you participate in any kind of social causes?
Oh yes, my mother and I are hugely passionate for women’s rights in the hospitality and travel industries. We have an organization with 10,000 members called The Travel Industry Executive Women’s Network where our goal is to inspire women to take leadership roles and to have these industries treat women as equals.
We consider our association a social cause of its own as we speak on behalf of the underdog in the hotel community globally. By underdog, I mean that we’re a relatively small group when it comes to numbers. The big chains have thousands of hotels and hundreds of thousands of rooms. I forecast all of that changing though as the boutique lifestyle sector is the future, period. Frances also sits on the Board of Kind Traveler, a Public Benefit Corporation that’s the first socially conscious ‘Give + Get’ hotel booking platform that empowers travelers to be a force for good. She also sits on the Board of Whole World Water, which was launched to encourage the hospitality industry to come together to help solve one of the most pressing issues the world faces – access to clean and safe water for all and to seriously think about the amount of waste that is produced in the sale of bottled water. Endorsed by leaders such as Sir Richard Branson.
BLLA’s own Giving Circle is the arm of the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association that is dedicated to the advancement of education and charitable ventures. Its mission is to improve the industry’s body of knowledge through the provision of information. Its other major purpose includes providing grants for further promotion, education and philanthropic efforts surrounding the boutique and lifestyle sector.
- What do you consider is your biggest accomplishment in life so far? What have you learned about yourself?
I’ve actually lost a great deal of weight over the past couple of years and have completed the Whole30 challenge (yet have continued the lifestyle months later). It’s crazy how much your health effects your work life- I can think clearly now! I also love how “boutique” has started trending in the fitness world with “boutique fitness studios” such as Soul Cycle, The Tracy Anderson Method and Barry’s Bootcamp- it makes working out more fun. I’ve learned about myself that I have more endurance than I thought I had-I’m not a quitter, I fight till the end.
My biggest accomplishment is raising 2 incredible daughters who embody a strong character, talent earned by hard work and learnings, backed by a belief that they can contribute to the world by either creating opportunities that are inclusive and thoughtful as well as harmonious, kind and philanthropic. Through them, our family values can go on and be passed down to the generations that follow and leave behind all things good and fruitful.I’ve learned that nothing is promised to you and you need to go out in the world and create your own kingdom. Through trials and tribulations, believe and persistence along with tears of sadness, love and laughter, life goes on and how you live it is totally up to you; choosing the right path and prayers along the way.
- Our motto stands for “You can be, do and have anything you want,” words by Abraham Hicks. What’s your take on such a statement?
I LOVE that phrase! It’s so true though in this day and age- society is accepting in that you don’t have to be “normal” anymore and that being “different” and “unique” is the way to go.
We are all born with the innate ability to make a decision of our own choosing. You can choose to wallow in negativity or take a completely different path by selecting 1st a positive attitude that will allow you to be, do and have anything and everything. From there, you can turn your mistakes into lessons learned and your wins into forging ahead and being proud of it, whatever it is.