|By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel, Fort
Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 5, 2009 --On hand for the formal opening of the W Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, W Hotels brand leader Eva Ziegler spoke with the Sun Sentinel about the hotels, trends and going global. Here's an edited version of the half-hour talk:
Q. You've been entrusted to expand the W brand. Has recession scaled back plans?
A. Since I came on this year, we've opened several hotels. We're now at 30 open, and the plan is 60-plus by end 2011.
In the short term, all the hotels signed up are opening, including South Beach, Boston, Santiago in Chile, Vieques in the Caribbean and Doha in the Middle East.
What you see is a slowdown in development. We haven't signed many new Ws in the past nine months for projects after 2012.
But the focus now is to open those hotels signed and figure out how big W will be as a brand globally.
Q. How do you differ from other chains?
A. W is not a chain. It's individual boutique-style hotels in a contemporary lifestyle brand. We offer a unique design approach, combined with signature programming like Bliss Spa, the hippest spa from New York. And then, there are W happenings -- the engine at the hotels -- events that bring alive fashion, design, music and entertainment to bring the local community in and make it the hippest place in town. Distribution also is an advantage over individual boutique hotels. You can find the experience in the hippest cities or in our retreat hotels. And W is part of (conglomerate) Starwood, so you have benefits like reservation systems and loyalty programs that are very important for performance.
Q. But how can you keep a boutique feel as part of a conglomerate?
A. Starwood is committed to have W as an innovator and laboratory.
Our design approach also ensures each hotel is unique. It picks up on elements of its location, with the W's light-heartedness. For instance, the W Istanbul in Turkey was inspired by Ottoman-style houses. The W Fort Lauderdale was inspired by the sea, flora and fauna of Florida, with green, turquoise and blue colors.
What connects all these hotels is a casual, fun type of spirit and philosophy.
Q. We've seen wi-fi, flat-screen TVs and organic food among recent hotel trends. What trends do you see for the future?
A. We adopt technology solutions for the contemporary lifestyle, like I-pod stations in rooms. A hotel should exceed your experience at home.
Another trend is ecology. And Starwood is expanding design sensitivity with the brand Aloft, which caters to an audience in their 20s, at a lower price point.
Q. W made its name in the United States. How does it differ to expand abroad?
A. It's different on all levels. For example, we have to review our approach to language. "Well, hello there" doesn't go down so well in Hong Kong.
We had developed a lingo that our "talents" were using, like "Styling" instead of housekeeping.
That engaging, informal approach should still be kept, but it should be respectful to the culture.
Then, there's the question of bar crowd management. If you want to be the coolest place in town with the coolest bar, there has to be some kind of management, so the crowd mingles with hotel guests, versus alienating guests.
In emerging markets, it's important to be in the China area.
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Copyright (c) 2009, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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