Standard International's Amar Lalvani on aggressive growth plans


Standard International's first outpost outside the U.S. will debut in London later this year, joining the lifestyle concept's five properties in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Expansion is on track to ramp up further, with Standard properties set to open in Lisbon, Paris, Milan, Mexico City and Bangkok, among other destinations. The company also has plans to grow its Bunkhouse portfolio, which has seven properties across Texas, California and Mexico, and to expand its One Night same-day booking app. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently met with Standard International CEO Amar Lalvani to talk about the company's growth strategy.

Q: Are there challenges that come with scaling a boutique-driven brand like The Standard?

Amar Lalvani
Amar Lalvani

A: We definitely haven't grown at this kind of pace before. But from a personal perspective, I travel a fair amount, and I found myself going to cities where, oftentimes, I wished there was a Standard. It's always very challenging to expand. But the way we keep our culture, DNA and specialness intact is by really running the company as a platform for creativity. The Standard is not cookie-cutter; when we go to a market, we're growing up in that market and not prescriptive about what we do.

Q: How does Bunkhouse compare with The Standard?

A: While The Standard makes natural sense in global, metropolitan areas like Milan, Paris or Bangkok, I've also become intrigued by what's happening in smaller markets, in the U.S. in particular, because of how expensive real estate has become in places like New York and L.A. and Miami. There's this burst of creativity and a democratization of culture happening in places like Austin, Texas, where Bunkhouse is from, and Nashville, New Orleans, Detroit and other cities. Bunkhouse fits into some really, really interesting places. We're doing another Bunkhouse hotel in Austin. We're also doing hotels in New Orleans and Atlanta.

That said, I think the Standard customer and the Bunkhouse customer are actually pretty similar. This classical tiering of five-star or luxury versus four-star or upper-upscale or whatever, I don't think those things have much meaning anymore. It's just not how people live their lives. I think the next-generation traveler isn't looking for the same level of experience everywhere but is looking for what the right experience is in a particular place.

Q: Why did Standard International decide to get into the last-minute booking space with One Night, and how quickly is that business growing?

A: People want stuff immediately. Uber and Amazon ushered in this whole immediacy economy, and we just expect it now. And that was why we launched One Night, which lets you book hotel rooms same-day for a value. The fact that other hotel companies are signing up with us in order to book their rooms says something about how well we've been able to connect with this next-generation customer. We now have around 200 hotels in 16 cities.

Q: How does One Night differentiate itself from the larger OTAs or from HotelTonight, the last-minute booking app Airbnb acquired earlier this year?

A: You know, I listened to an Expedia earnings call a couple of weeks ago, and they stated very proudly that they have something like 500,000 hotels, which is incredible. But as a busy person who cares about the quality and experience of where I stay, the last thing I want to do is dig through that; I want to know that someone else has done the work. Our equation is different than just a pure price equation, which no one's better at than the big OTAs. But if you add our level of curation plus the price, then you get something pretty valuable.

Lastly, I would say it's interesting to watch what happened with HotelTonight. As they grew, they had to start to compromise the curation, and they also took out some of the spontaneity and started offering longer booking windows. Now that may be good from a customer perspective, but it's not good from a hotel perspective, and they stopped getting the best prices because they're not just incremental inventory. Our booking window is still same-day, though you can stay as long as a week.

Where we fit in is understanding the totality of the travel experience that the next generation is looking for. It's our level of taste and curation combined with price, and that's a really cool combination.

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