Skift Take

The U.S. hotel industry’s recovery is volatile heading into fall, especially in major cities. A vaccine mandate like at Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel is an added security blanket — but a bigger hotel company might face legal challenges trying to implement something like this in more anti-vax parts of the country.

Want to stay at one of Studio 54 legend Ian Schrager’s trendiest hotels? Get the jab.

The nightclub-turned-boutique hotel mastermind Friday announced plans requiring guests, visitors, and staff to his Public Hotel in New York City to provide proof of vaccination against coronavirus.

The plan, set to go into effect Sept. 5 for guests and mid-August for employees, came about from New York City’s own plan to require staff and customers at indoor dining establishments, gyms, and concert halls to provide proof of at least one dose of a vaccine beginning on Aug. 16. Hotels aren’t yet included in that planned city-wide vaccine mandate despite housing many of the indoor activities that would require a vaccine under the city’s new rules.

“The precipitating factor for me was when the city required vaccinations for the bars, the restaurants, and in the fitness facilities that are inside the hotel,” Schrager said Friday in an interview with Skift. “If you’re requiring that, what about the people in the hotel and the people working at the hotel? What’s the point of all that [other] stuff? It didn’t seem to me to be a cohesive, coherent policy. It’s either all or nothing.”

The only guests allowed into the hotel without a vaccination after Sept. 5 will be children under the age of 12 or those with medical or religious exemptions.

The head of the Hotel Association of New York City confirmed to Bloomberg Schrager is the only hotel owner in the city requiring proof of vaccination for both guests and staff.

Schrager’s misgivings about the city’s vaccine mandate not going far enough echo what some health experts have said in recent days that it should be expanded to reach maximum benefit.

The Public Hotel vaccine mandate is a first, as most company moves have been directed to employees like United Airline’s worker vaccine mandate announced Friday morning.

Fitness brands Equinox and Soul Cycle announced plans to require proof of vaccination beginning next month. Hotels, like fitness centers, have been among the hardest hit financially due to the pandemic.

The rise of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus has many in the hotel industry apprehensive about fall travel demand, especially as more businesses delay their planned return to the office and accompanying corporate travel.

“We just came through a really tough year, and we just put a great effort into making the hotel very compelling and very exciting. We opened up and had a lot of great momentum going,” Schrager said while noting the hotel is running at about 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. “We all have to work together. It just seems like the right thing to do. We just have to keep our eye on the ball. If you want to get back to our way of life, we have to beat this.”

Schrager relaunched the Public Hotel this summer with the intent of scaling up his idea of “a luxury hotel with the heart of a select-service hotel.” The plan is to develop up to 10 Public properties around the world in the next five years before turning to a partnership to allow more wide-scale expansion. Schrager previously partnered with Marriott in beefing up the Edition brand of hotels.

The hotelier is optimistic vaccines can stave off a drop in travel demand and remains optimistic about how hotels will perform this fall. But he also recognizes a vaccine mandate like the one planned for the Public Hotel may only work in certain aspects of the greater hotel industry. There’s a luxury to being a smaller operator in New York City.

“I asked a very big company what their policy was going to be — I can’t tell you the company — and they aren’t going near it. They were concerned about legal implications and a whole bunch of other things,” Schrager said of the likelihood of a guest vaccine mandate scaling up to major hotel brands. “I suppose that maybe public companies have a different criteria and have a lot of other things and moving parts they have to deal with, justifiably so. I do have that luxury of just doing what I think is right.”

That doesn’t mean he isn’t concerned with pushback at his own hotel.

“I’m not saying that I’m insulated from lawsuits. My wife came up to me and asked me what happens if we get sued,” he said with a laugh before adding: “I’ll deal with that if that happens. All I know is it’s the right thing to do. It’s not only the right thing to do, in the sense of morality. It’s the right thing to do for expedience. We’ve got to get this behind us. We have to do it together.”

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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, ian schrager, public hotels, vaccines

Photo credit: Ian Schrager plans to make his Public Hotel in New York City the first in the city to mandate proof of vaccination by all guests, visitors, and staff. Public Hotels

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