Hotel Trendspotting With Ian Schrager

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Last week, Successful Meetings sat down with Ian Schrager in his Greenwich Village office to talk meetings, hotel trends, and more. The independent hotelier, best known for creating Studio 54 in the 1970s, and for igniting the boutique hotel concept in 1984 with business partner Steve Rubell, is now shifting his focus to the meetings market. 
 
“I think you’re just going to be seeing more and more visibility, and more and more focus and intensity by me and my company to focus on the meetings market because it’s become such a big part of our business,” Schrager says. “I just realized that you can’t really have a successful hotel business if you don’t have a very big corporate component and a very big meetings component. It’s just the reality of today’s business world that you have to be able to cater to this market and, if you don’t, you won’t have a viable business.”

Schrager says that his boutique hotel concept is ready to service the trend toward smaller meetings. “It’s something that has been growing over the past several years,” says Schrager. “Before, I think what happened is that the business has kind of evolved. Traditionally, a lot of hotels had really large grand ballrooms and meeting spaces and a lot of times they sat empty and weren’t revenue producing. We’ve moved a way from that with smaller and more intimate boardrooms with excellent service and good food. It’s just the modern way of doing business.”
 
When Schrager wasn’t discussing strategies for attracting meetings business to his newest property, PUBLIC Chicago, he shared the following insights on the hospitality industry and what to expect in the years ahead.

Beyond Boutique
“When I first got started in the business, there was the virtue of being noticed, and I was trying to stand out from the crowd,” Schrager says. “Everything was like a vanilla generic box and I wanted to do something that was completely unique and unlike anything ever been done before and in doing that, I resorted to a lot of tricks and one-line jokes and there was something virtuous about being provocative about the design and about doing things like that. That was 25 years ago. Things change.

“I think there’s a backlash. I think we’ve become overzealous. It’s as if the design process is on steroids. It’s too much. It’s like one upmanship in everything we do. [With PUBLIC Chicago], I wanted to jettison that and go back to basics. I wanted to do something that was Incredibly stylish but wasn’t trying to outdo the person across the street — just taking good old fashioned good taste that’s classic and timeless and feels comfortable.”
 
Hotels Will Think Small
“I think also that for many people [a] smaller [hotel] is more intimate and [has] more of personal contact and personal touch,” says Schrager. “You feel less institutionalized, like less of a number, and you get better service. Smaller is better. That’s been happening for a long time. In this country, a few years ago you could have an 800- or 900-room hotel. Most luxury hotels now have 200, 300, or 400 rooms. I think the next generation will have even less than that — I think it’s only 100 rooms.”

Value is the Next Big Thing
“I think this whole idea of value is a kind of a watch word,” says Schrager. “I think it’s the future. It’s not just the future of hotels but of every business. You have to offer good value. The economy is different now in this country and you have to offer good value without sacrificing good quality and good experiences. You have to offer everything that a luxury hotel, product, or meeting could offer but at a better value; it’s redefined. It’s not just the future of hotels and meetings but the future period.”