Meanwhile, Back in the United States...

courtesy Aloft
Starwood's Aloft has lounges meant to serve as neighborhood hangouts

Boutique hotels--meaning smaller properties with distinctive personalities--became popular because they weren't chains with cookie-cutter rooms. Now major hotel companies are creating what they consider boutique brands.

InterContinental already has eight Hotel Indigo locations in North America; guests will find a core list of menu items at hotel restaurants, but there will also be surprises like in-room murals, and decor and music that change throughout the year.

Hyatt recently introduced the Hyatt Place brand; there are 60 locations in the U.S.

Starwood has two new brands slated for 2008: Aloft, with lounges meant to serve as neighborhood hangouts, and Element, which has barbecues and apartment-like rooms that'll appeal to extended-stay travelers.

Marriott is partnering with boutique-hotel entrepreneur Ian Schrager and plans to launch a yet-to-be-named line of 100 hip properties over the next decade.

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