Sheraton 2.0

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.

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts room

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 $3 billion.

The strategy calls for upgrades and new designs to 100 U.S. 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.


Agents' Role
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.”

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts cafe

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 progress.

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