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The Student Hotel : A Connected Community

Charlie MacGregor, Found & CEO, The Student Hotel talks all things about the unique group that is neither your typical student accommodation nor your typical hotel.

01/09/2018 5 min read
The Student Hotel, Maastricht.

The Student Hotel allows for students, travellers, 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 started The Student Hotel. 

 The first Student Hotel project was completed in 2008, just as the full implications of the global financial crisis unfolded. But we pressed on, despite a dismal economic backdrop and the collapse of bank backers.  The strength of the concept let us start new projects in The Hague and Rotterdam.  

How did you secure the initial investment? 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.  They got the concept.  Today The Student Hotel group has over €1.8bn to invest to reach its 2021 goal of 41 hotels.  The group has three main investors – myself, along with Aermont Capital LLP 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 on ADR, RevPar and occupancy. When other hotels see our numbers they’re like OMG!

The business is hugely cost-effective. Traditional student accommodation doesn’t require any full time staffing. Hotels on the other hand, and particularly those offering high quality accommodation, are manpower hungry. The Student Hotel model takes a middle road, we offer 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, against old regulation.

The Commons, Amsterdam Bar

Can you tell us more about the 10 projects (across major European cities) that are in the pipeline? 

We currently have 4,392 rooms in 10 locations including two in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Groningen, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Paris and two student-only residences, TSH Campus, in Barcelona.  

The Student Hotel Lavagnini opens in Florence this June and Dresden later this year.  In 2019 we will open Bologna, Madrid, Berlin and Delft.  Rome and Vienna in 2020 and Toulouse in 2021.  There is a second property in Florence – The Student Hotel Belfiore – as well as one in Utrecht.  And more in the pipeline: Italy, France, Spain and Portugal are close to acquisition.  I’m also looking for our first project in North America.  Our plans are for 41 properties (17,550 rooms) by 2021; and to lead the co-living, co-working hospitality space with our Complete Connected Community concept. 

I understand 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 center of a new building. It represents not only the core of our TSH experience, but also our attitude of how we want everything to spread out from there.  And we respond to our buildings whether it’s an existing refurbishment or new build, we take inspiration from the architecture, surrounding environment and local community. 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 really inspires all who encounter it? How does it encourage a sense of curiosity and adventure? 

It’s simple. We connect with our guests.  Take our “Lost Socks” walls in the Laundry. It’s a no-brainer, everyone not only gets the wink of the statement, but it’s also very functional and appreciated.  Another example is our TSH Collab, co-working spaces attached to our hotels.  This connects local businesses with guests and students and brings new innovations, inspirational conversations and a sense of community for everyone. 

As head of design, what does Jason Steere bring to the group? 

Our expansion plans are aggressive so we needed to establish an in-house design studio that would lead with design in all cities, properties and hotel experiences and maintain brand consistency, creative control and an eye on economies of scale.   It doesn’t matter whether we are designing a hotel in-house or with local agencies, Jason’s role as head of the TSH Experience Design team is overall responsibility for the final results; from the architecture, interior design, graphic communication and styling. 

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 Student Hotel, we are disrupting the hospitality industry with a fresh approach. 

Of the myriad of “issues” you have to face as a hotel operator, what is the most pressing one? 

For us, keeping up with the 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. That is why is say we are – also operationally – a Complete Connected Community. 

There’s a lot of talk about “millennials” and how they’re going to “shake things up for the hospitality sector”; what’s The Student Hotel group’s take on that? 

The Student Hotel has become a magnet not only for students, but also travellers, entrepreneurs and, crucially, local residents and long-term hotel guests who are encouraged to use all the facilities; that includes shared work spaces, 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’ve moved on. Now it’s not only about creating a better experience for guests – I want to integrate communities and revitalize cities. We believe that a 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’s next for the industry? What are your predictions for the hotel sector moving forward? 

Internationalisation and technology will continue to drive and change our demands. Technology is enabling us to make last minute, real time decisions about where we can go and what we do. Mobility, whether it is for study, work, family or leisure will continue to reshape Europe and other continents. Hybrids like The Student Hotel will become the norm as we are satisfying more needs than just a roof over your head. 

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