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HOTELS Magazine | June 15, 2007

Marriott and Schrager

By Laurence Gellar

The announcement of the new venture between Marriott and Ian Schrager has evoked a mixture of emotions from the self styled cognoscenti of our gossipy industry. From wry smiles to bellows of laughter and the inevitable caustic and sometimes witty jokes, everyone has something to say. The yuk it up e-mails are flowing like a swollen river, poking fun at others is an industry sport. The lack of true boldness in our business is an industry shame so the timid poke fun at the bold and then ultimately, lamely follow in their trail blazing footsteps.

I have to admit that it would be all to easy for me to come up with a series of comments on this relationship ranging from caustic to cutting, amusing to hilarious, however I will leave those cheap shots to the myriad shallow thinkers in our industry of lemmings. For that’s not what I really think.

The pragmatic reality is that this relationship is a bold and audacious step in an industry that is only now realizing that sameness may not be what is needed for Gen X’ers and the upcoming Gen Y’ers.

Ian Schrager is one of a kind. Creative, inventive, not frightened of any barriers, convinced of his knowledge of trends, prescient, bold, passionate, creative, sometimes maddening and always willing to tread paths others can’t even begin to see. Sounds familiar? Well it should – names like Conrad Hilton ( Hilton), Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn), Bob Wooley (Granada Royale – now Embassy Suites) should come to the minds of those old enough (or those that are smart enough to care) to remember history. They were trailblazers, pioneers who didn’t know that breaking the mould was wrong!

Who really set the tone for boutique hotels? Was it Barry Sternlicht with W? No, it was Ian Schrager whose breathtaking early concepts spawned a generation of boutique hotels around the world, all trying to be unique, while all being much the same in their drive to be different. A more cynical person than I might say that W came from being a Schrager “wannabee”. But then there was Barry Sternlicht’s genius – to see something new, realize it was a trend, get an avant-garde brilliant mind like David Rockwell and start to institutionalize the previously uninstitutional.

Bill Marriott’s vision of controlling the supermarket shelves of branded products in our industry was as equally bold and visionary in its way as Schrager’s concepts were. The machine like efficiency of Marriott’s roll out and growth over the past three decades has set the tone for multi branded lodging companies everywhere.

Now we have a new generation of consumers for whom being different is important. The era of customization is upon us with a vengeance and technology is the great enabler. My hat’s off to the Marriott team for recognizing this need and for answering Ian Schrager’s clarion call for a vehicle for institutionalizing his creative genius. His latest property, Gramercy Park Hotel, has fired the imagination of even New York’s most jaded and blasé! To those that will say that this is Marriott’s answer to W - it is not. It is the next generation of thinking that will make W look more of a tried and tested, up market and much needed product than a leading edge trend setter.

Will Ian be maddened by Marriott’s rigid systems and controls – you bet. Will Marriott’s army of system driven executors be driven crazy by Ian’s restless and wandering mind as he sees trends and opportunities others will never recognize – you bet. Will both parties be frustrated with each other – you bet. Will there be heated debates – you bet. Are the other brands kicking themselves today for not seeking Ian out and harnessing his creative energy – you bet. Would I like to be a fly on the wall as the product gradually evolves –you bet. Will the Schrager –Marriott deal be successful – you bet! Am I impressed by this deal – you bet.

So for all of you who are making fun of this, I recommend you open your minds and realize that we are witnessing the birth of another generation of product that will gradually find itself institutionalized and leave the field open for future more creative and trend setting brands as this tomorrow inevitably comes.

Original and bold thinkers can be so easily pilloried. To the first movers will come the spoils while the naysayers and self styled cognoscenti are left to follow in their wake with variations on the theme.

Bravo Schrager. Bravo Marriott. I can’t wait to see the first product come off the assembly line