Well aware that business travellers detest cookie-cutter surroundings and impersonal service, Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Sheraton Hotels came up with Link@Sheraton that is fast redefining the traditional lobby concept.
“We’re creating a ‘park’ in the lobby that’s aimed at fostering a sense of belonging,” observed Paul Tribolet, Starwood’s senior vice-president, marketing for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, who visited the Asia-Pacific last May to present key clients with the latest company updates. “It’s to give guests a chance to be part of the community, and they don’t have to talk to other people if they don’t wish to, to feel that way.”
That shared space (which in some hotels features long tables to creating a cosy atmosphere) also provides constant connectivity – with Microsoft’s help – to office and home. At the Westin, evening rituals highlight engaging cultural activities such as candle lighting or playing of the drums to help combat homesickness.
Said Tribolet: “More and more, we are finding that our customers are loyal to our hotels, not just to earn points, but because they find the same culture and values wherever they stay. That’s why our brands are so in demand by the market.
“We may have several brands (in the Starwood portfolio), but they are each very distinct. In one city such as Dubai or Rome, you could find six or seven of our brands present as they cover the needs of different travellers.”
Tribolet informed Business Traveller that new Starwood properties would reach the 100-mark globally by year-end, and one of its fastest-rising chains, W would witness tremendous expansion over the next 18 months. Recently launched W Istanbul (opened May), will be joined by W Doha (September) and in succeeding months, by hotels in St Petersburg, Amman, Marrakech, Athens, Milan, Verbier, Barcelona and Dubai (two for the city).
Tribolet discussed the repositioning of Le Méridien, acquired by Starwood in 2005. Based on the group’s core values of French heritage, culture and discovery, initiatives to heighten the guest stay are being put forward. Room keys not only unlock guestroom doors but are also passports to events in museums, art galleries and performance venues. The current inventory of some 650 restaurants in Le Méridien hotels across Europe, Africa and the Middle East will increase to about 800 by 2010.
In order to promote the finer things in life, the chain is in discussion with a prestigious French culinary school to set up satellite kitchens in the lobbies of certain Le Méridien hotels for classes of 10 or so students. “You don’t just get a room at Starwood; you get a memorable experience,” Tribolet said.