Boutique hotels like Aloft are the new travel trend in Columbia
The newest bar in downtown Columbia serves up craft cocktails, local beer and cooler-than-you tunes by artists like ZZ Ward and MGMT. Business travelers mingle amid soft lighting in a room styled in chic shades of blue, orange, pink and gray. At the end of the evening, perhaps after slipping out to dinner in the Vista, they’ll return to the bar and retire upstairs to their bedrooms – because Columbia’s newest nightspot is also the city’s newest boutique hotel, catering to a crowd seeking a unique stay in the capital city. It certainly impressed 25-year-old Cameron Harper of Texas, who stopped into the lobby of the Aloft hotel last week to have a vodka and soda before dinner with Eric Busboom. “If I lived here, I’d come here for a staycation. As opposed to other hotels, this would feel more like a destination.” With the opening of the five-story, 107-room Aloft, at the corner of Lady and Lincoln streets, and the recent announcement of a 41-room independent hotel near Main Street, Columbia appears to be catching on with the global trend of individually styled, experience-based travel options. The trend is toward smaller, boutique-style hotels with fashionable character, purposely different from what’s typically offered by larger, traditional brands. In Columbia, the apparent rise of boutique hotels could signal that the city is more than just a business destination, but a place people increasingly come for fun, too. “Columbia has just not discovered itself and what it has to offer, but the outside world has – and that’s why all this is happening,” said Fred Delk, director of the Columbia Development Corp., which helps guide growth in the downtown area. Columbia might not be able to replicate the allure of a costal, historical city like Charleston, but it has its own charms to offer, and at a considerably lower price, said Rita Patel, who plans to open a small, non-chain hotel downtown with her husband this fall. “The people’s craving for vintage and authentic, that’s a huge, huge common theme in boutique hotels,” said Patel, who is also a partner in the new Aloft. The modern traveler wants to live like the locals, said Scott Smith, a University of South Carolina professor of hotels, restaurants and tourism. That’s a concept that boutique hotels are tapping into and even larger, more traditional brands are catching onto, he said. At Aloft, the “Live like the locals” connection looks something like the artwork by Columbia painter Julia Moore hanging in the lobby, or the floor-to-ceiling windows that create an almost seamless connection between the lobby and the Lady Street sidewalk. Smith isn’t surprised to see the chic hotel market making its way into Columbia, especially since more millennials are becoming business travelers. “We’ve got enough business out there that supports more than just a couple Holiday Inns or Marriotts. It’s a good indicator that Columbia, as a business community and as a leisure travel community, is doing well.”
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