Last updated: 09:00 AM ET, Tue June 09 2015

Ian Schrager On Today's Boutique Hotels

Hotel & Resort | Ryan Rudnansky | June 09, 2015

Ian Schrager On Today's Boutique Hotels

PHOTO: Ian Schrager speaks at the 2015 BLLA Boutique Hotel Investment Conference (Courtesy of the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association)

Ian Schrager, the man who has been largely credited with introducing the boutique hotel concept, spoke at the third annual Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association (BLLA) Boutique Hotel Investment Conference on June 3 at the SVA Theatre in New York City.

Schrager and Morgans Hotel Group were pioneers of this lodging genre when Morgans Hotel was opened in 1984 in New York City. Since then, the boutique hotel has gone from attracting a niche audience to emerging into the mainstream, evidenced by the success of such properties as Delano Las Vegas (Morgans Hotel Group also owns the Delano Hotels brand).

Schrager shared some of his thoughts at the conference, covering everything from the definition of “trendy” to the creative process behind a boutique hotel, to where he sees the boutique concept going in the future.

Something that is trendy is sometimes referred to as a fad today, but, according to Schrager, a trend needs to have more of a shelf life to be called as such.

“Something is trendy,” he said, “if it stands the test of time.”

Schrager also talked about how one should build a boutique hotel, as well as sharing what it’s like to create one behind the scenes.

The most important thing when creating accommodations of this variety, he said, is to ensure “the execution is superb.”

“Then, you can be as provocative as you want to,” he said.

But Schrager even defines the word “provocative” in his own terms. For example, he doesn’t buy into the notion that you have to spend a lot of money to build a sexy boutique property.

“I never thought rich materials were necessary for a luxury experience,” he said.

Schrager added that he also doesn’t focus on the outside of a boutique hotel because “everything happens in the inside.” A great boutique actually starts with simplicity and “good taste,” and then you “jump on cultural trade winds, grab that, and master it until alchemy happens,” he said.

But ask Schrager which qualities of a boutique hotel makes the concept so successful and, well, he can’t really tell you. All he can say is that every detail matters.

“What’s hard is to create the magic because there’s no formula to it,” Schrager said.

“I never know which detail is responsible for pushing it over the top,” he added. “Every detail is life and death. Striving for that is nerve-racking. I’m constantly striving and making sure it’s as good as it can be.”

Of course, do this boutique hotel thing for as long as Schrager has and he doesn’t really have to pin down which exact details are most important. These days, he said, he has a general idea of whether a property will be successful or not just by taking a look at it.

“At this point, I can feel the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.

Schrager also touched on the fascination within the industry surrounding millennials.

Millennials, given some studies that have highlighted their preferences, have been largely associated with boutique hotels.

But, according to Schrager, well, he’s had just about enough of that. Other generations have many of the same tastes as millennials, he said, and boutique hotels aren’t only popular with millennials.

“I’m so tired of hearing about millennials,” Schrager said. “Millennials aren’t the only ones buying an Apple product.”

In terms of how Schrager sees the boutique hotel movement evolving, rest assured independent hoteliers, things appear to be looking rosy.  

“The lifestyle segment,” Schrager said, “is the future of the business. The market is vast. I think the big hotel companies never understood that, and now they’re beginning to understand it.”

(Look at InterContinental Hotel Group’s acquisition of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, and there’s ample proof)

But ask Schrager, one of the grandfathers of the boutique hotel concept, which hoteliers are doing it right these days, and, well, don’t expect one of the most innovative men in the industry’s history to give out kudos that easily.

“I think what would be nice is if someone came along and had a new idea,” he said amid laughter from the audience.

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