Five questions for Charlie MacGregor

Lodging in a hotel

A beehive of activity; that's the best way to describe The Student Hotel. Youthful bravado after newly-gained self-confidence and unbridled curiosity - all these factors come together in this unique environment. The successful concept has been so warmly received by students that a second hotel is now opening in Amsterdam. To realise this, Heijmans is transforming the former Parool & Trouw offices into a hotel. Owner and brainchild of this concept, Charlie MacGregor, gives us an insight to his world, where everything is about taking the next step towards complete independence.

August 19, 2015

Firstly, how were your student years?

Hahaha! I was expelled from school when I was fifteen, so I don't think I was a very good student. I then started working for a construction firm when I was sixteen, where I had to perform all kinds of jobs. I worked for the assistant foreman, and was 'his bitch'. But I got to work with a lot of different people and felt happier than ever before. When I was eighteen, I moved from Scotland to London, where I worked for a developer at a construction firm. It again involved a lot of hard work. But I was able to build my own portfolio, which was actually the first step in this whole process.

Later down the line, I also helped my father to construct housing for students. In the United Kingdom, student accommodation is big business. I think the success of student accommodation is also a no brainer in the Netherlands.

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The reception at the existing Student Hotel in the Jan van Galenstraat, Amsterdam.

Is there not a major difference between student housing and a student hotel?

My biggest challenge was the points-based system for renting in the Netherlands. No one understands it and everyone says it does not work; so I had to find a solution. And we managed to do this by not going for student accommodation, but for a student hotel. This helped us to overcome the points-based system. And when I realised the domain name (thestudenthotel.com) was also available, I knew I had to do it. The only thing I needed to do was convince my investor that we were not creating student accommodation, but a genuine hotel concept. In the end, we decided to buy three buildings at the same time (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague). All this took place during the economic crisis. And we used these years to continuously improve our business model.

Our investor is British. Dutch investors already have too many preconceptions about the points-based system. Foreign investors are not put off by such things; they look at the strength of the concept and recognise its potential.

What makes a location or building appeal to you?

When I moved to Amsterdam in 2006, I started riding through the city on my bike to become more familiar with it. I then saw this building (Elsevier building, Jan van Galenstraat), the metro station, tram stop and all the possibilities. But everyone thought I was crazy because they thought it was in no man's land, outside the ring road. But seriously, it's only a twelve-minute bike ride from the Westerkerk and has public transport links on its doorstep. We now house 700 people, see over 2000 students stay with us each year and are pride of place in Amsterdam-West.

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Charlie MacGregor, owner and brainchild of The Student Hotel concept: “My biggest challenge was the points-based system for renting in the Netherlands. No one understands it and everyone says it does not work.”

The great thing about being a developer is that you have the opportunity to change a whole neighbourhood. And that's exactly what we've managed to do here. We have a fantastic relationship with the neighbourhood - we have always been friendly to surrounding residents and you still see them popping in from time to time.

We are now collaborating with Heijmans at the Wibautstraat, in order to realise a version of The Student Hotel which beats all others

We are now collaborating with Heijmans at the Wibautstraat, in order to realise a version of The Student Hotel which beats all others. All our experiences from other locations will now be implemented for this new venture. For example, no more kitchens in rooms because they don't get used very often. And the money we save by doing so can be spent pimping up the rooms. There will be two restaurants, a club and a cocktail bar. Everyone has been taking about it for months now.

How has the concept been received?

Very positively. The aim is to give students the best year of their lives. It is a very important time in their lives; they are very open to things, which also makes them a little vulnerable. But if they manage to survive the first year, they will be on the road to becoming independent. I am really looking forward to September, when the new students will be arriving. They will be curious, but also very nervous. Mothers tend to be very sad and fathers don't know what to do with their emotions - very awkward. My favourite moment is when they've all said their goodbyes. Parents then return home alone for the first time, but I always talk to them before they leave. A year later, they come back having discovered a whole new way of living! Simply because their children now live by themselves. And many parents also come to stay in the hotel for a week during the holidays. Students are then also very proud to show their new life and city to their parents.

Your second Amsterdam hotel will soon be opening. What are your experiences with Heijmans?

I am very, very pleased with our relationship. And Henk Nieuwboer, the project leader, is a really calm, nice guy. He understands what we want to achieve and is very patient. He makes a big difference. Heijmans also wants to build a version of The Student Hotel which surpasses all others, and that realisation is very important. There must be harmony in any relationship. And Heijmans delivers ahead of schedule, within budget and offers superb quality. What more could I want?

But briefly back to Henk. I once had to leave for a construction meeting early in the morning, but also had to drop off my two children. So I decided to take them with me to the meeting. Of course, it was very boring for them. But then Henk says, “guys, come with me”. After 20 minutes, they were so calm that I asked Henk what he had done with them. He had given them a wall, some felt-tip pens and told them to draw whatever they wanted. Is there a better way for kids to pass their time?