Postcard from Manhattan: Hotelier Igor Apraiz Discusses the Changing Landscape of International Luxury Hospitality

18 Mar 2016 | by Les Roches


Igor Apraiz
BBA : Les Roches 2001
Hotel Manager, The Knickerbocker, New York, NY

As manager of The Knickerbocker, a historic hotel in New York’s Times Square, Igor Apraiz has witnessed the evolution of luxury in the hospitality business over the last decade. Luxury was formerly regarded as something occasional and extraneous to everyday life – a black tie event or a magnum of champagne. But the new paradigm democratizes luxury as a lifestyle choice characterized by convenience, simplicity and style. “Apple is a great example of what today’s luxury stands for,” he explains. “A product that is luxurious but so easy to use that even my two-year-old can use it.

Luxury versus Lifestyle

At The Knickerbocker, luxury is a way of life: it calls itself a “luxury lifestyle hotel.” Igor explains that today’s luxury is less about exclusivity and expense than it is about intelligent design and ease of use. “It has become the identification of specific needs of your consumer and most of all convenience – the simplifying of a customer’s hotel experience to make it as easy as possible.”

Tom La Tour, Principal of LaTour Signature Group, echoes this idea in a recent article for Hotel Executive (“The New Paradigm: Fractional Resorts – A Luxury Lifestyle, Not a Hotel Room”), noting that, “Today, aura is more important than exclusivity.”

“New luxury is about the experience,” LaTour adds.

Offering the best of the best quality now has to go that extra step to deliver not just a great thing, but also one that is unique, memorable and desirable.

This is a realm that Igor knows well, having built a successful career in the luxury hotel business ever since his graduation from Les Roches 15 years ago. Before joining The Knickerbocker in 2013, he served as the Assistant In-Room Dining Manager for the Mandarin Oriental, New York in 2003, then moved to Shanghai to become Rooms Division Manager for the Mandarin Oriental there.

In both roles (as well as his job at The Knickerbocker), he was part of the pre-opening teams responsible for preparing the hotels for their public debuts. As a mentor to his own employees and interns, Igor advocates the importance of this experience.

Everyone should have at least one hotel pre-opening in their life and stay with that hotel until it stabilizes,” he says. “Not only will it show you the length and breadth of your mental capacities but it will also bring out the entrepreneur and creative mind in you.

Igor credits his attitude and the theoretical background he gained at Les Roches for facilitating his success in the luxury hotel market. He feels his Les Roches education has remained an asset throughout his career, noting that the school’s reputation opens many doors to employment in the luxury business. But Les Roches is more than a bullet on Igor’s CV: it is a source of global community and personal support.

Les Roches cares

He felt this support profoundly when he recently decided to complete a 100-mile bike ride to raise funds for Boston Children’s Hospital. His son suffers from lymphatic malformations and Igor wanted to call attention to this rare condition while showing his gratitude for the pediatric hospital where his son was treated. Though Igor had not been in close touch with Les Roches since his graduation, he had attended a 2015 alumni reunion while on a business trip to Dubai. There he met Alumni Coordinator Katherina Westphal, who later received the e-mail he sent to publicize his cycling fundraiser. Igor had sent the e-mail to individual and corporate contacts all over the world but, among the responses he received, his support from Les Roches was remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that he keeps the $4,000 presentation check they sent on the wall of his office to remind him of his school’s sponsorship and how much it meant to his family.

“It was like being welcomed back into the fold once again — the encouragement was amazing,” he reflects. “It’s wonderful that Les Roches is so responsive to community service projects like my charity event. It sets a significant example within the hospitality industry.”

Manhattan is not the tourism focus anymore

As a graduate of Les Roches Switzerland with deep experience in New York luxury hospitality, Igor has a unique perspective on Manhattan as an international tourist destination. And even though it’s hard to imagine a more iconic corner of the Big Apple than Times Square, he encourages his guests to think outside the box when they visit The Knickerbocker.

For anyone traveling to New York as a tourist, the focus has always been on Manhattan,” he says. “But the tourism of the future is in outer boroughs such as the Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. They have so much to offer the visitor who is prepared to venture beyond the traditional idea of what to do in New York.

As a Les Roches alumnus, a New Yorker and a luxury hotelier, Igor is excited by the prospect of Les Roches opening its doors in another celebrated American city: Chicago. “It’s a great opportunity for American students to attend an amazing school,” he says. “Bringing together the leader in innovation with the reputed Swiss hospitality savoir faire will attract not only the large pool of young talent in the US but also all of the key employers.”

One lesson he has learned from his own career is that – even with the best degree and the most extensive preparation, every professional rise will hit some obstacles along the way. If and when that happens, he advises students to be persistent until they come out on top. “Never give up,” he says.

Everyone fails once in their career but it is how you pick yourself up and keep going that matters in the end.

Les Roches


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