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Marriott goes hip

To some, it may sound like an odd pairing. Owner of the family-controlled Marriott hotel chain Bill Marriott is jumping into bed with king of the hipper than thou boutique hotel Ian Schrager. Their new $2.8 billion joint venture, recently named Editions, is a chain of fashionable, affordable hotels which promises not to look like a chain and has made a commitment to environmental responsibility.

While Schrager will lead the charge on concept, design, marketing, branding, food and beverage, Marriott is overseeing the development process and will operate the properties. Hotels are planned for Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Miami, Costa Rica, Madrid, Paris and London and could eventually extend to 200 locations.

With around 3,000 properties and 500,000 rooms spread throughout 70 countries, the Marriott empire spans the gamut from moderately priced chains like Courtyard and Fairfield to the sumptuously luxurious Ritz-Carltons.

Meanwhile, Schrager's scarily fashionable hotels from the Sanderson and St Martin's Lane in London to the Hudson in New York, the Mondrian in Hollywood and Delano in Miami, regularly welcome the likes of Kate Moss and Madonna. The design, not to mention the social scene, in Schrager's dramatic lobbies, has revolutionised urban hotels and spawned a host of imitations.

With plans for the first opening slated for 2010, it's early days yet. But could the edgy Schrager and super conservative Marriott come up against each other? After all, Marriott hotels have bibles in the bedside tables while Schrager's hotels are typically frequented by design-conscious types.

Brooklyn-born Schrager co-founded the hedonistic nightclub Studio 54, which later closed and saw Schrager emprisoned for tax evasion. Bill Marriott is a Mormon who took over a root beer stand in Washington DC owned by his father and went on to build the biggest chain of cookie cutter hotels in the world.

Still, there is lots to suggest the collaboration could be timely. Recent months have seen occupancy rates at both hotel groups dip 10%. Before the economic downturn though, boutique hotels' per room revenue growth in the US has averaged 11% a year, a third above the norm for the industry, according to Smith Travel Research.

Schrager believes über designed hotels have now reached their peak. "It's time to go away from design because it's over the top now," he said recently.

In addition, the day of the cookie cutter hotel might just be over. New York based Luxury Institute research suggests consumers are now far more inclined to choose intimate venues in hospitality with great service and unique experiences.

Luxury Institute founder and CEO, Milton Pedraza, is upbeat about plans for Editions. "At a time like this you need deep pockets and staying power as a boutique hotel designer and developer. Marriott has access to their own funds and can access the funds of others since it has such a great track record," says Pedraza.

So perhaps Editions could well be the start of a beautiful relationship. Pedraza certainly thinks so. "Now is the right time and it makes for a great marriage. Marriott knows how to locate, build and manage hotels and Schrager knows how to design and create a great boutique hotel experience," he says.

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