Starwood Hotels & Resorts continues to “ideate” with the opening of Starlab, the brand’s new design and innovation headquarters, on Feb. 24 in New York’s Garment District. The space serves as a working laboratory that continues to test ideas for Starwood’s nine brands. It features everything from a smart mirror that doubles as a digital display showcasing Starwood’s latest video news to a digital chandelier that is part art installation and part Twitter feed to five digital-feed frames that rotate guests’ Instagram-feed posts. Needless to say, guest feedback via social media is a large source for the hotel company’s idea lab.
So, what does that mean for meetings? Prevue spoke with Mike Tiedy, senior vice president of global brand and innovation at Starwood, and Jonathan Kaplan, director of new business development and prospecting at Starwood, to find out.
How will having the new Starlab affect Starwood’s meeting business?
Tiedy: Starlab isn’t necessarily changing our meetings business, but it is changing the way we have business meetings. To promote cross-functional collaboration among the company’s digital, design and luxury brand teams, we designed a variety of workspaces that afford more or less privacy for associates, as needed.
Individual desks can be personalized for associates to sit, stand or balance on a stability ball, while modular seating areas with banquettes and objects d’art bring smaller groups together to ideate. The Library provides a semi-private space for informal meetings with bleacher-style seating and flexible tables, design boards and projectors, and dining areas, including an outdoor terrace, featuring communal tables with flexible seating options.
We have reached a tipping point where it is more important than ever for our teams to think differently about our business—from the unique design of our hotels to the thoughtful programming that brings our brands to life and the leading-edge technology that enables us to deliver personalized service consistently around the world. Starlab brings together multiple departments to leverage different strengths to solve challenges.
What new meetings innovations on the horizon should meeting planners know about?
Kaplan: Technology, of course, continues to play an increasingly larger role in the B2B space, including meetings planning and management. Currently, we are conducting a global pilot of our new Meeting Planner app, Starwood ProMeetings, which is showing an overwhelmingly positive response by our customers. This is not surprising, as it was developed with substantial Meeting Planner input.
The app allows meeting planners to submit real-time, onsite requests into the hotel’s central response system, personalize meeting needs, manage requests across multiple rooms and strengthen their relationships with hotel staff. Ultimately, it’s giving them more control over their onsite experience so they can stay focused on what matters most: their meeting objectives and their attendees. And by streamlining these communications, it also provides our hotel meeting event managers with line-of-sight into every request, so they in turn can provide a more personalized level of service to customers.
What feedback could Starlab employees use from meeting planners?
Tiedy: Many of the guest and group trends we’re seeing in our hotels became relevant as we started to design Starlab and, in particular, its meeting spaces. We know that people seek out inspiring spaces to conduct casual meetings in ways that foster creativity and seamlessly deliver technology.
Meeting planners work hard to not only deliver a successful meeting or event, but they promise an exceptional experience: from guest check-in, through the meeting and following check-out. There is special attention paid to things like décor & atmosphere, the food and beverage experience and personalized touch-points.
That full immersive experience is important to keep in mind, and we aimed to while reimagining the conference rooms at Starlab. W Hotels Suite, for instance, incorporates distinguishing design elements that channel the brand’s renowned cocktail culture, such as a bar-height white carrera marble table laced with LED lighting details to strategically highlight W hotel’s ReMix Bar, the brand’s play on the classic hotel minibar. Or the Le Méridien Suite, which draws inspiration from the brand’s “hub” lobby concept, aims to provide guests flexible seating options with exquisite Pollock meeting room chairs for a more traditional table-side meeting as well as counter space with elevated Bertoia bar stools for a more social conversation.
Whether it is for our associates or our planner’s travelers, we want to deliver a seamless, consistent experience around the world. As Jonathan [Kaplan] mentioned, with innovations like SPG Preferences or SPG Keyless, Starwood can deliver a better guest experience and map to the business traveler’s evolving needs and expectations. And with the ProMeetings app, we can free up some of our planners’ time so they can keep their attention on their travelers.