Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ian Schrager + Marriott: A marriage made in heaven?

The International Herald Tribune (August 21; www.iht.com/bin/print.php?id=7197141) reports that boutique hotelier Ian Schrager and Marriott are joining forces to create a line of about 100 boutique hotels. The new brand, which is so far unnamed, will combine the "master of the ultrahip hotel" with a decidedly "unhip" but much more powerful, mass-market leader. The question is will this marriage of opposites be successful?

The answer is, it depends. Certainly it fills a need for both Schrager and Marriott. As the article notes, the partnership will instantly put Schrager "in his rightful place as a major player in the lifestyle market segment and in the longer term will position him to build a mass customer base for his innovations, a la Apple, Nike, and Sony." As for Marriott, though it "has $12 billion in annual sales worldwide...the company is notably absent in the boutique segment."

But does the partnership fill a need for the hotel-going customer? This, I think, depends on how well the plan is executed. As the article notes, Schrager is "obsessive about details" that can seem quirky, like leaving the lights dim or putting "stylish" notepads in each room, while Marriott is more "mainstream" and cost-conscious--the lights will likely be brighter for safety reasons and the notepads may be too expensive.

How will they collaborate? Which brand will have the larger share of voice, if you will? And which customer will they serve--the potential Marriott customer looking for a boutique-like experience or the boutique customer looking for a more Marriott-like experience? My guess is that it's the former--which means that Marriott will need to let Schrager's voice be heard loudly and clearly in order to have an impact.

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