Remember years ago when you wanted to send an email from a business hotel? You had to leave your room with the scratchy fireproof bedspread and descend deep into the bowls of the big grey building to a dark and lonely little business center. Was that the worst or what?
Sheraton Hotels & Resorts just spent $6 billion, in part, to invite you down to a well-lit lobby for a cup of good java, easy conversation and a fast web connection. Grab a paper and a brioche while you’re there.
By now, many of you have test driven the “Link@Sheraton” business lounge, located in over 90% of Sheraton hotels. The bright and cheery spaces were designed to bring business travelers together in a relaxed manner, inspired by the success of W Hotels’ lobby socializing phenomenon, Starbuck’s sense of community and the typical city park.
“W Hotels successfully transformed lobbies into a destination,” says Hoyt Harper, Sheraton’s global brand leader. “Guests will often spend more time there; they eat, they drink, they socialize. We wanted to replicate that experience in a Sheraton voice.”
But W Hotel’s raison d’etre is somewhat removed from Sheraton’s. Starwood needed something to soften the edge.
“So we took inspiration from parks,” continues Harper. “Parks are a human symbol of community, a place where people gather, where they go to play, go to relax—to be alone but not lonely.”
But there was still something missing. This is a business brand. People want their CNN, now. What to do?
Starwood discovered the answer at their friendly neighborhood Starbucks, where people go with their laptops to hang out, often alone, and connect with the world at large. People always look relaxed in a Starbucks too, like they’re part of an enlightened community of latte-sipping, NY Times-reading bon vivants.
The Link@Sheraton was born.
“We used technology as an enabler but the focal point behind the Link was social,” says Harper. “We discovered that a unique space along with technology was very compelling to our guests. They want to connect and stay connected, whether they’re reading their home newspaper or networking with friends and family.”
And all of that together—lobby networking, parks, coffee and computers—meshes perfectly with Sheraton’s three core brand values: warmth, connection and community.
“Our research showed there’s one common theme around the world—people want to come together. And when they do, they’re more productive and they’re happier. It was that simple.”
57,000 NEW BEDSPREADS
Harper says it was also that expensive. Sheraton’s companywide infrastructure upgrades began in 2007 to bring all of the 400+ hotels in over 70 countries up to consistent levels of standard.
In North America, 98 hotels and 57,000 guestrooms were extensively renovated, and over 40 properties were dropped altogether. The bulk of dollars were invested in the large “living billboard” hotels in major markets like Waikiki, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Boston and Montreal. Upscale newbuilds changed the landscape in San Juan and Phoenix.
“We left no property untouched,” says Harper. “It’s been a dramatic change to the physical product, along with the deployment of our signature initiatives, that have really made a difference in terms of customer perception. We completely revitalized North America and we’re encouraging planners to rediscover Sheraton because we stand for something consistent and inviting.”