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Sheraton 2.0April 14, 2008 By: David Eisen Travel Agent
Venerable Starwood brand to get global makeover
I’d like to start this issue’s column with a quote: “If you
don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” This pithy line
was uttered by none other than Gen. Eric Shinseki, who, from 1999 to 2003,
served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army. I can only assume the
comment’s intent was combat-related, so, you may be wondering, how does it
relate to a travel magazine column?
In countless ways. In today’s rapidly changing hospitality
environment, unless you roll with the times, the potential to become
impertinent is just around the corner.
The hotel industry knows this all too well, where brand
definition and property upkeep and refinement is essential to success.
A guest-room redesign is part of Sheraton Hotels & Resorts' global revitalization program.
Starwood Hotels &
Resorts, which operates the Sheraton Hotels
& Resorts brand, recognized this reality two years ago and is now aggressively
setting out on a global course to revitalize and upgrade the brand through
renovations and redesigns, which, when all is said and done, will cost around
The strategy calls for upgrades and new designs to 100
properties—nearly half of Sheraton’s North American portfolio—with a focus on
guest rooms and public spaces. The plan is part of a global initiative to
revitalize the Sheraton brand and differentiate the guest experience at each of
its 406 hotels worldwide, the bulk of Starwood’s portfolio.
Starwood’s strength lies in its strong brand identities. In
the past, Sheraton struggled to define itself among a cluttered hotel
landscape, a challenge that Starwood’s St. Regis, W and Westin brands overcame.
Hoyt Harper II is the senior vice president for Sheraton,
and the man tasked with leading the brand through this metamorphosis. He says
that Sheraton’s brand is defined by three words: warm, connected and communal,
and those three traits form the basis of the renovations and upgrades that will
take shape over the next several years.
“This work began with [Starwood’s] migration from real
estate-driven to brand-driven,” Harper says. He created an advisory board while
at Four Points by Sheraton and brought it over to Sheraton. The board consisted
of 24 of Sheraton’s largest owners, who helped lay the groundwork for the
revitalization. “We brought owners into the process early on,” Harper says.
“The aim was to anticipate what customers want.”
According to Harper, the room is foremost in a customer’s
mind, and within the room it’s the bed that takes precedence. Enter the Sweet
Sleeper II bed that, though different from Westin’s seminal Heavenly Bed, is
promised to elicit just as ethereal a night’s sleep. “Our goal is to equal
Westin in quality, but through a different lifestyle.”
The rooms will be redesigned with a more flexible layout
with four distinct zones: a welcome area, a “connection” zone, an area to rest
and a space to re-energize. Bathrooms will boast “Shine by Bliss” products and
a new, softer lighting arrangement.
The lobby will feature communal tables and Link @ Sheraton,
which is a relaxation area equipped with free wireless Internet and other tech
amenities. (Sheraton guests are social and interactive according to an ethnographic
study sponsored by the company.)
These are the basics of the redesign, but owners will have
the latitude to choose from three different design templates, depending on the
tenor of the hotel and its location: classic/timeless, simple/aesthetically
streamlined or relaxed/casual.
Although Sheraton’s upgrade plan began under the watch of
former Starwood CEO Steven Heyer, it should end under the eye of current CEO
Fritz Van Paasschen, who Heyer says has been a driving force behind
implementation. “He’s a proponent of it and the one to refine and push it
forward,” Harper says. “To do it faster.”
A typical cafe in a revamped Sheraton.
Ultimately, Sheraton hopes travel agents will play a big
role in helping to market and sell the brand. “We will expand our outreach to
agents by investing more time and funds toward that mission,” Harper says.
Expect Starwood’s agent site, Starwood
Pro, to become more robust, with added modules and
supplemental video, so agents will have visual evidence of Sheraton’s