Moments ago, Marriott announced a partnership with Ian Schrager, the developer of some of the world's best-known boutique hotels, to build roughly 100 boutique hotels within the next several years. The partners say they will have five development deals signed by the end of the year, and that a brand name for the line of boutique properties should appear within a few months.
The news is surprising because in many ways the Marriott brand is the antithesis of what consumers think of when they think of a boutique hotel, such as Schrager's Gramercy Park Hotel, where the news was announced. Marriott hotels tend to have hundreds of rooms that look interchangeable and are designed to consistently deliver a room for the night for business travelers. Schrager's hotels are small and feature modern art, unusual light fixtures, oddly-sized lobbies with wood-burning fireplaces or enormous high-definition TV sets--with no two hotels having an identical look.
Even at the press conference this morning, the different personal styles of Schrager and Bill Marriott were striking. Schrager wore a collarless black shirt and a black sportcoat, while Marriott wore a navy blue suit, a white shirt with a starched collar, and a standard necktie.
Marriott admitted that the guests going to Schrager's hotels haven't been going to Marriott's hotels. But, he said, he didn't see why his company couldn't attract them by building a new set of properties. After all, he noted, Marriott recently announced a partnership with Nickelodeon to build hotels that assiduously aims to please children. "And with this deal we're going after the grown-up kids," he said.* Schrager responded with a funny facial expression that quickly turned into a smile.
Despite differences, money talks, of course. And the boutique hotel segment of the business has been enormously profitable. Marriott's resources--its reservations systems and existing supply channels and staff--could help reduce the cost of building additional boutique hotels, and put them with an reasonable "splurge" zone for budget-conscious travelers.
*A typographical error in this original blog post said "sad" instead of "said."