Not Much Has Changed Since the Studio 54 Days, Says Ian Schrager

Ian Schrager doesn’t know for sure what his hotel guests want — but he’s going to give it to them anyway. He’s never done data, focus groups, marketing surveys or interviews. He just trusts his entrepreneur’s instincts and, so far, they haven’t let him down, according to a new podcast, part of the Amex Shaping Insights series with figures in luxury, travel and tech.

Schrager, the cofounder of Studio 54 and a clutch of unconventional boutique hotels, tells the journalist Fiona McCarthy that he’s eliminated the welcome ritual at his new Public hotel in Manhattan, so that guests can make a beeline to their rooms via contactless technology.

He believes the guests at Public “don’t want to go to a hotel, sit down, have a glass of Champagne and make small talk at the front desk. You want to get your key, and get up there. The check-in and check-out are invisible. Nonexistent. That’s what people want today.”

And while technology can make the day-to-day mechanics of operating a hotel cheaper and easier, there’s still ample room for personal interactions with staff. “The guest will get it in many more important places than making small talk at the front desk,” he says.

Indeed, creating that “emotional connection with the guest is absolutely essential. How do you get that? I don’t know. You hope that at the end of the day, the alchemy happens.” That alchemy, he believes, comes from fostering diversity, creating an environment that makes guests feel comfortable and free — and through a ferocious attention to detail.

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“Not everybody sees the detail,” but that doesn’t matter, because he and his team have such a laser focus. He uses the chairs in the lobby as an example. “You’re talking about the stitching, the nails, the legs, the bottom of the legs. It all comes together when the totality is more than the sum of the parts — that’s the magic.”

Diversity is another big contributor to that magic. “The secret to having a very successful public space is diversity. You want to get that spice of life, the energy, the combustibility. When you have that diversity, you get a kind of feeling of freedom.”

That pursuit of freedom — and his own well-documented history with Studio 54 — continues to inform Schrager’s work. “The new luxury is a spiritual luxury, not a material one,” says Schrager, arguing not much has changed over the past four decades since the glitter ball ceased spinning at the 54th Street club.

“If you jump forward 40 years — we’re after the same thing. That sense of freedom and comfort when you’re dealt with nicely, when you feel looked after and protected and nothing you do will hurt you — but without the mayhem, and everything that went on in the nightclub.”

The future, he says, will be about democratizing luxury further, and breaking down more barriers in hospitality.

He foresees “a merger” between business and leisure travel, noting that it’s already happening with people going to their golf club “to play and to do business.” He also likes the idea of all-inclusive city hotels, “where people pay one price — and have access to everything.”

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