Everything’s coming up roses for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. With aggressive –25 new hotels to be exact — expansion on the horizon, this hotel group’s future is looking stellar. Olivier Bonke, senior vice president of sales & marketing, shares with Prevue what sets Starwood apart, especially on the European market.
Prevue: What is the overall trend for European meetings/incentives from the US market heading into the second half of 2012?
Olivier Bonke: We see improving business trends in our key European markets, especially in Germany, the UK and early signs of pick-up in Italy. Despite a slow recovery, current occupancies at our hotels in Europe are only 100 bps below peak 2008 levels, excluding Greece. We expect the European recession to be shallow as some economic forecasters are now predicting. As such, we are more confident today that business in Europe in the second half of 2012 will be better than the first half of the year. Europe remains a global travel destination from source markets around the world, especially the US. Companies are profitable and in great financial shape. For the US market, cities like Paris, London, Rome and Dubai remain at positive bookings levels throughout the entire year. Booking windows are also returning back to normal.
Starwood attracts corporate groups to destinations in Europe especially through newly opened or re-opened flagship properties such as the Le Méridien Istanbul, Turkey and the W Paris-Opéra, France and the W London-Leicester Square, UK. Another great example is the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh which just re-opened after a multi-million dollar renovation. The hotel is now Edinburgh’s newest five star hotel and offers fully refurbished guest rooms, more than 1,400sqm of meeting and event space as well as a new restaurant and bar. These facilities perfectly cater to the needs of global corporate accounts, either for incentive travel or meetings.
P: How do you promote the Luxury Collection Hotels to US groups? Are they well known to US planners?
OB: The Luxury Collection is an ensemble of hotels and resorts offering unique, authentic experiences in the world’s most exciting and desirable destinations. These hotels are icons in their space, such as the Gritti Palace in Venice, Italy and the Hotel Prince de Galles in Paris, France — both of which are currently undergoing major restoration — the Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain which just re-opened this spring, and the landmark Hotel Imperial in Vienna, Austria. Unlike other independent luxury hotels, meeting planners benefit from the emblematic status of Luxury Collection hotels and the reliability and consistency of service and products for which Starwood is known. In addition, we are offering an attractive program to our meeting planners called “Starwood Preferred Planner.” Members of the Starwood Preferred Planner program can earn Starpoints which can then be redeemed by meeting planners for business purposes or their own pleasure.
P: What does Starwood bring to Central and Eastern Europe for US groups?
OB: Starwood hotels in East and Central Europe offer US groups the same reliability, service and assistance with the planning of meetings and incentives which they have come to expect in other Starwood hotels in destinations around the world. Easily reached via direct flights from the US, destinations such as Moscow, Istanbul, Athens, Vienna, Munich, and Frankfurt boast Starwood hotels which cater to the needs of US corporate and incentive travellers with regard to meeting facilities and leisure activities. Starwood’s growth in Europe is being accelerated by a focus on key fast-growing markets, including Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Starwood will double its portfolio in Russia and Ukraine by 2014 with openings in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, Perm and Kiev. In Turkey, Starwood is expanding its pipeline aggressively with four new hotels opening in a three-year period, including the recent debut of Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler, marking the brand’s entrance into the country. With that, Starwood will operate 10 hotels in Turkey under five of its nine distinct brands.
P: What are the unique selling points for the new Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler?
OB: The recently opened Le Méridien Istanbul Etiler is set to become a landmark in the city, as the 34-storey hotel features iconic architecture by award-winning Turkish architect Emre Arolat, interior design by renowned Turkish designer Sinan Kafadar of Istanbul-based Metex and a dedicated curated art program showcasing Turkish contemporary artists, reflecting Istanbul’s inspiring and culturally diverse atmosphere. The hotel features three distinct, vertically-stacked blocks, inspired by the neighboring buildings in Etiler, and gradually becomes transparent as it rises towards the sky, providing guests with impressive views of the Bosphorus and a new perspective of Istanbul.
In addition to its 238 guest rooms, the hotel offers 21 long-stay residence suites all with floor-to-ceiling windows providing inspiring views of the Bosphorus and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge which connects Europe to Asia. Dining facilities include an all-day restaurant, Latitude Bar serving illy coffee and other refreshments, and a rooftop bar with spectacular 360-degree views of the city. The total meeting space of the hotel spans 2,040sqm, including a chic and elegantly designed ballroom of 766 sqm, a 550 sqm pre-function foyer, seven stylish meeting rooms out of which five are with natural lighting as well as two VIP boardrooms. Additional facilities, such as the “Explore Spa” offers guests to the opportunity to relax in one of the steam rooms, sauna, jacuzzi, Turkish Hammam, eight treatment rooms, as well as an indoor and heated outdoor pool. A 24-hour fitness center ensures contemplation and vitalization to the guests. The hotel also offers the newly developed Le Méridien Hub experience which re-interprets the traditional lobby into a social gathering place for creative people to converse, debate, and exchange.
P: How are the new W Hotels in Europe being received by international groups? What do they offer that didn’t perhaps exist before and who do they cater especially well to in terms of corporate groups?
OB: W Hotels are extremely well perceived by international groups traveling to Europe, where the brand is represented with hotels in Istanbul, Turkey, Barcelona, Spain, London, UK, St. Petersburg, Russia and Paris, France. W Hotels provide a design-led, high energy experience, which is perfect for creative and team building meetings & incentives. Our W hotels are preferably chosen by varying types of corporate groups as they incorporate Starwood’s recognized professionalism, systems and reliability in operating successful meetings.