Charlie MacGregor, Founder & CEO, The Student Hotel, talks all things about the unique group that is neither your typical student accommodation nor your typical hotel. Inspired by reimagination, The Student Hotel allows for students, travelers, mobile professionals, creative nomads and enterprising minds to be brought together, becoming a complete connected community.
Where did the idea behind The Student Hotel group come from? Student accommodation is in my blood. My father built the first purpose-built student rooms in Edinburgh, where I grew up. At 25, I bought a small student accommodation company and sold it 10 years later when I moved from London to Amsterdam and founded The Student Hotel.
How did you secure the initial investment, and who are the partners? The initial investment was with the Carlyle Group, and we convinced local banks like Rabobank to finance the conversion of vacant buildings into a new style of student accommodation that did not exist, in the middle of the financial crisis. Today, the group has three main investors: me, Aermont Capital and APG.
What were the initial challenges, and how did you overcome them? I came into this 10 years ago as a challenger within the industry, but we are one of the best kept secrets in the hotel business, outperforming expectations. The Student Hotel model takes a middle road, sitting in-between traditional student accommodation and hotels, offering all the comforts of a great city centre hotel while keeping staffing costs well below the hotel industry norm. There are still challenges. The Student Hotel is focused on doing things differently and that can result in opposition from planning authorities. We are constantly pushing against the rules and against old regulation.
Can you tell us more about the future projects that are in the pipeline? We currently have 4,392 rooms in 10 locations, including Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona. This year, new locations will open in Florence and Dresden, Germany. In 2019, we will open Bologna, Madrid, Berlin and Delft. Rome and Vienna will open in 2020 and Toulouse in 2021. Our aim is to reach 41 properties (17,550 rooms) by 2021.
Design is a huge focus for the group: talk us through how you go about creating the best space where students can find their purpose? We always start by drawing a heart in the centre of a new building. This represents not only the core of The Student Hotel experience but also our aim to have everything spread out from there. Design is just the tool we use to define the experiences throughout our spaces, but the true focus is on our guests. I always say we design our spaces up to 80%, allowing the remaining 20% to be defined by our students, guests and local community.
Can you describe how The Student Hotel atmosphere inspires and encourages a sense of curiosity and adventure? It’s simple: we connect with our guests. Take our ‘Lost Socks’ walls in the laundry – everyone not only gets the wink of the statement, but it’s also very functional and appreciated. Another example is the co-working spaces attached to our hotels. This connects local businesses with guests and students and brings new conversations, innovations, and a sense of community for everyone.
As Head of Design, what does Jason Steere (right) bring to the group? Jason’s background is retail design, where his mission was to define brand experiences that inspire, engage and convert customers. This philosophy translates nicely to The Student Hotel goals. By bringing a retail mentality to the business, we are disrupting the hospitality industry with a fresh approach.
Of the myriad challenges you have to face as a hotel operator, what is the most pressing one? We need to keep up with our own growth potential. We constantly see new opportunities to improve our concept and operational model. New technology enables us to connect and stay in touch with our growing customer base, while the way our customers study, travel, sleep and work is changing year on year. We see more and more barriers between hotels, office space, restaurants and residences being broken down. This is why I’d say we are – also operationally – a Complete Connected Community.
There is a lot of talk about millennials and how they are going to shake things up for the hospitality sector. What is your organisation’s take on that? The Student Hotel has not only become a magnet for students but also travelers, entrepreneurs and, crucially, local residents and long-term hotel guests who are encouraged to use all the facilities. This includes shared workspaces, communal areas, restaurants and bars. The result is a melting pot of disparate groups and nationalities who meet, socialise, share ideas and create friendships. Our goal at the outset was simply to create a better space. But we have moved on. Now it’s not only about creating a better experience for guests – I want to integrate communities and revitalise cities, too. We believe that trends like co-living and co-working are here to stay and are endorsed by all generations. We focus on people, value and connections – not demographics.
What are your predictions for the hotel sector moving forward? Internationalisation and technology will continue to drive and change our demands. Hybrids like The Student Hotel will become the norm as we are satisfying more needs than just a roof over your head.