Starwood CEO Van Paasschen Pushes W Hotels into Luxury Market

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Living Room

Living Room at W Guangzhou

During a live televised CNBC interview in March from Dubai, Frits Van Paasschen, President/CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said: “Our three luxury brands—W, St. Regis and The Luxury Collection—in the last five years have doubled their footprint around the world. And they’re set to grow another 50 percent in the next five years.”

Last year, when he addressed the crowd at the grand opening of the St. Regis Bal Harbour in Miami, Van Paasschen bristled somewhat at the notion that “luxury is dead.” Because while many people were saying that, Starwood’s upscale hotel brands were expanding at double digits. And looking forward, the hotel group is obviously sure in its assessment that the market for luxury lodgings is, in a word, rosy.

The interesting thing here is W Hotels. Van Paasschen is aggressively positioning the groovy lifestyle brand into the luxury market because the definition of luxury is changing for more people in more age groups in more countries. As the Gen Y/Millennials come of age, memorable experiences and cool design with a strong sense of place are supplanting the stern exclusivity and magisterial authority of old.

“It used to be luxury was all about wearing the right clothes, being formal and polite,” said Van Paasschen in the hospitality magazine Hotels in March. “Your butler was like the butler in Batman and it was just a very serious affair. There is no reason why luxury can’t be fun at the same time, and that is what we intend and are already seeing with the growth of the W brand.”

The second big change in the luxury market is rate, because as the definition of luxury evolves in different directions, so too does ADR. More flexible rates for a more flexible definition of luxury gives planners more options for a wider variety of hotels and venues. That is a welcome development with the industry’s fixation on ROI.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you define luxury. The main thing is that your attendees feel special, your venue bodes well on your company’s brand, and you don’t feel like you’re meeting in Batman’s cave.

W GUANGZHOU

Parked at the end of the Pearl River Delta separating Hong Kong and Macau, the metropolis of Guangzhou is the largest city in Southern China, joining the ranks of Beijing and Shanghai as an international meeting destination. The 317-room W Guangzhou opened in April as the first W in mainland China. Over the next five years the plan is to build 10 more giant neon W’s in the region.

“W Guangzhou will set a new scene in the city with its innovative design, buzzing bars and restaurants and Whatever/Whenever service, showcasing what’s new and next for both our jet set guests and trendsetting locals,” says Paul James, global brand leader for Starwood’s luxury triumvirate.

The 18-story hotel has a sleek black glass exterior reflecting a modern vision of its Chinese township, literally. It’s what designer Rocco Yim of Guangdong Museum fame intended. At the entrance, the 60-foot “Luminous Water Wall” was designed by Yim to calm arriving guests.

The lobby Living Room concept is turning out to be a big deal in Guangzhou, because no one has every seen anything like this of this scale where guests and locals are mingling day and night. The guest rooms have the signature W Bed, Munchie Box and Bliss bath amenities. They’re also the first rooms in the city to have motion sensor capability.

For group business, there is 6,500 sf of meeting space and I by Inagiku—Guangzhou’s first Japanese hotel restaurant, with indoor/garden dining and a dedicated sake bar.

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