Ian Schrager isn’t forecasting a new normal for the industry once the pandemic has passed and advises young hoteliers to be relentless and not afraid of failure.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—This downturn is different from past cycles, but Ian Schrager, founder of the Ian Schrager Company, said they all wind up in the same place: a return to normalcy.
During a session at the 2020 Boutique Lifestyle Digital Summit, hosted by the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association, Schrager said the industry will return to “not a new normal, but the same normal we’ve always had.”
“It's just a question of when; the timing may be different,” he said. “There may be certain adjustments that have to be made. But I don't believe in paradigm shifts. I don't think all the pundits really know what they're talking about, because there's no precedence. There’s not a frame of reference to use, so it’s all just conjecture.”
He said those in the lifestyle business “think outside the box by definition,” so he believes the normal thinking after the pandemic will “be something we’re quite comfortable with.”
New York isn’t dead
Hotels in New York have been hit hard by the pandemic, but Schrager said it will survive because “it’s forever. It’s always.”
“It goes through ups and downs, and it always finds some way to survive,” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous to say … that everything is going to be different.”
Schrager added when societal shifts happen, things largely go back to the way they were with certain adjustments made.
Shutting down Public
The Public Hotel in New York City shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, which Schrager said was the first time he’s ever temporarily closed a hotel.
In the past, he said “he would never interrupt a business that was going.”
“I would always find some way to be able to continue the business,” he said. “It’s very dangerous once you have a breathing, living, heart-beating business to shut it down. This is the first time in my whole entire career that I’ve ever shut anything down.”
As of 17 September, the day the panel took place, Public Hotel still had not opened and Schrager said “I’m not really enthusiastic about opening until people feel safe traveling again, which is what it’s going to take.”
“There’s no reason to open up a hotel at 20% or 30% occupancy because there’s just no way to make money,” he said. “What is the point, especially when you can’t really deliver on the brand experience, especially a lifestyle hotel (where decisions) are based upon the brand experience and product distinction.”
Once Public reopens, Schrager said there will be opportunities to utilize technology more, which is something Public was already doing.
“For instance, the automatic check-in that we utilize at Public, and now a lot of other hotels are doing it, as well, and I actually think the future of the business is an invisible check-in and an invisible check-out,” he said.
People want touchless check-in and check-out right now and are more open to trying new types of tech for the purposes of health, he said.
“I think the benefit we’ll get out of it is people will get used to it, and we’ll be able to stay with it and it’ll be much more accepting in the future,” he said.
Schrager said he plans to expand the Public brand to international gateway cities.
He said Public is “the most important idea I ever had” and his goal with the brand was to “take the pretention out of luxury.”
He added that it was time “somebody took the pretention out of the luxury experience at a hotel and made it available to everybody and anybody that wants it.”
Development for the Edition brand, which was created by Schrager in partnership with Marriott International, is “hot as a pistol” and expanding quickly, he said.
Since China is already bouncing back from the effects of the pandemic, he said the brand will likely return there much quicker than in other parts of the world.
“We’re working on dozens of them, and that’s going unabated,” he said “People are being a little more tentative, a little more conservative, but it is going forward, and we are finding new deals as we speak.”
Advice for new hoteliers
For those younger boutique hoteliers who might be new entrants navigating the space the industry is in now, Schrager said they shouldn’t be afraid of failure.
“If you're afraid of failure, paralysis sets in, you don't try anything new,” he said. “Doing what everybody else has done, but in a different color, accomplishes nothing.”
He added that young hoteliers should be relentless.
“Don’t let anybody stand in the way,” he said. “The only way you’re going to innovate is to break down the door and go right through it.”