Before Rob Blood founded boutique hotel collection Lark Hotels in 2012, he described the hospitality scene in New England as a long-lived, traditional and just a little bit stuffy. He envisioned a new collection of properties that would reimagine the classic inns dotting the territory, finding what resonated with travelers and expanding on it. His company’s newest opening, the 30-room AWOL in Provincetown, Mass., continues to carry the torch by taking a classic motor lodge concept and turning it into an upscale marshland mecca.
“People want to be immersed in the locations they are visiting, and they want to feel like they are there today, not 200 years ago,” Blood said. “We updated these classic, historic buildings so they would belong in 2018. We [had] the first hotel in Kennebunk, Maine, with cable TV and internet!”
The AWOL formerly was the Inn at the Moors, and is located across the street from lagoons and marshes and a quarter of a mile from the beach. Blood said Lark was attracted to the hotel because of its unique location and the untapped potential of Provincetown, as well as the allure of well-positioned motor lodges.
“We were very lucky, Blood said. “The Inn at the Moors was not on the market, but the moment we saw it we knew it was an untapped jewel.”
Lark financed the property using a conventional loan with a local bank, but the company encountered difficulty during the property’s renovation. Due to Provincetown’s remote location, it was difficult to get construction crews to the site, and the changes Lark planned for the property also required navigating unexpected red tape.
“We took the entire front parking lot and turned it into a front yard with three fire pits and a pool, so getting approvals for all of that took a while,” Blood said. “The town was amazing to work with, but we ran into a few surprises here and there. We didn’t expect to have to install a sprinkler system in each doorway!”
The aforementioned yard is part of what makes the hotel unique. The yard is divided into a bar area with beer-hall benches on sand, as well as a grassy events area with a bocce play area and another sandy patch. Blood’s goal was to create a miniature boutique resort with the styling of a waterfront hotel, while also providing modern services such as grocery delivery through partnerships with a local store.
“We are providing an opportunity for guests to do things their own way,” he said. “We don’t want to be confined by being a colonial home in the center of town with a little outdoor space. At AWOL, guests can walk to the beach or ride a bike to town if they want.” Thomas Masters, GM of the AWOL, said the property is the only hotel in Provincetown to offer views of the marshes and lagoons at ground level, while also retaining some semblance of privacy.
“We are far enough away [from town] that our property is quieter that what you would find in a downtown property,” Masters said. “But we are close enough to town that guests can get there in about 20 minutes. In overall look, design and experience, there truly is nothing else like it in Provincetown.”
According to Blood, there has been a resurging interest in motor lodges across the U.S., and larger hotel brands such as Marriott International and Hilton have already begun to renovate them into boutique hotels and add them to their lifestyle collections. Despite growing activity from industry heavyweights, he said there are still many opportunities for success in the boutique hotel market for those who know their market and are willing to take a risk.
“The Marriott engine turning against you can be a big challenge, but I think the boutique space is still open to those who understand it,” Blood said. “When you are the largest hotel company in the world it can be a challenge to understand specific locations the way a local can. For boutique operators, there are many opportunities to create unique experiences and craft stories in a real way.”
Blood founded Lark Hotels in in Amesbury, Mass., in order to market a four-hotel portfolio he acquired in New England, but since then the company has become a self-described labor of love for him and his team. The company currently has 23 properties consisting of roughly 600 guestrooms.
“From concept to completion, we had our hands in every piece of this project,” he said. “For me, Lark feels like the complete experience. When you are able to touch every bit of a development process, that’s a gift.”