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Interview with Eva Ziegler, Senior Vice President: "Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts rewriting Le Méridien's alphabet"

Born in Austria, Eva Ziegler is a marketing specialist who debuted at Saatchi & Saatchi before entering the service of corporations with a global dimension such as Coca-Cola and Toyota. She was hired in March 2006 to take charge of the brand Le Méridien and its 120 properties in 52 countries. She drives both the relaunch of marketing and operations management.

{{HTR Magazine: How does one relaunch a brand with such a background as Le Méridien?E.Z.:}} We have simultaneously begun several projects for the Le Méridien product, and these will be realized in 2008. I cannot say any more for the moment, but our considerations bear on cuisine with Jean-Georges, in-room services and, more generally speaking, the redefinition of service.Eva Ziegler :}} Despite Le Méridien’s strong presence in Europe, I moved into the headquarters in White Plains outside New York City to be in contact with all the divisions at Starwood Hotels that contribute to the brand’s integration within the group and its relaunch: finance, marketing and sales, the loyalty program… At the same time, I am European and it was important for me to keep Le Méridien’s European roots alive. I consider myself the compass that indicates the right direction. When the time comes for me to be more involved in operations, I’ll move to Europe, most likely to Brussels in the course of the next year.{{HTR: Did integration produce immediate results?E.Z.: }} Connecting to Starwood’s sales systems made it possible to grow sales by 30 to 40% depending on reservation channels: GDS, call center, Internet. The RevPAR rose by 13% in 2006 with up to 22% growth in the Asia zone. Starwood’s loyalty program –Preferred Guest– generated three times more reservations than the program Méridien Moments. There is still room for growth, particularly via Internet which represents only 7% of Le Méridien’s sales versus more than 10% on average for Starwood brands.{{HTR: How have you redefined the characteristics of the brand Le Méridien?E.Z.:}} We dived into the past to find its roots and above all we have constituted a group of twenty or so general managers who are the closest to the product and customer perceptions. This is how we collectively determined three values that define the brand’s personality: Chic, Culture and Discovery. Chic: the sophistication of a European atmosphere, but with timeless sophistication like that of Chanel. Culture: our strong commitment to sectors such as art, architecture, design, fashion, cuisine, which all inspire creation and innovation. Discovery: synonymous with intellectual enrichment. When guests leave a Le Méridien they should feel enriched in some way or another. These values have been a part of the brand’s DNA from birth. They needed to be revived and rendered coherent throughout the network.{{HTR: You are no longer seeking to create references to Le Méridien’s French origins?E.Z.:}} The national origin is too limiting when the ultimate goal is a global dimension. The strength in differentiation is insufficient. We wanted to reappropriate the founding values of Le Méridien but by interpreting them within a broader European dimension, which makes more sense. Moreover, our preliminary surveys showed that today’s global perception of Le Méridien is that of a European brand rather than a French one.{{HTR: What do you think of the old adage that bases the success of a hotel on three conditions: location, location and location?E.Z.: }} I think that location is an important notion when the brand’s strength falls short. This is the argument of functional hotels that have only their location to sell their rooms. A brand’s key values must allow it to be a destination in and of itself, even if it is always necessary to seek the best location possible for it.{{HTR: Do these notions allow you to clearly stand out from other brands that are fairly close to the group such as W or Westin?E.Z.:}}The three-value principle may also be applied to these brands: for W, its “Flirty, Insider, Escape” and for Westin its “Personal, Instinctive, Renewal”. In short, W addresses a younger, trendy clientele that is resolutely contemporary; Westin highlights its attachment to personal well-being within a cocooning-oriented dimension. Our positioning is fairly clearly outlined around cultural notions.{{HTR: Isn’t it too subtle for getting the message across to the client?E.Z.:}} These values are never used in communications to the general public. They are the basis of the construction of our image and initiatives for supporting it. In terms of demographic characteristics, we are aiming at a global market that is similar to that of Westin or W, and other similar brands. The difference becomes clear with regard to the client’s attitude when choosing the hotel from among the competition in function of his trip personals. The reflex to choose us must take over when the client is looking for cultural discovery. Moreover, we have nonetheless identified a specific target of 150 million potential clients worldwide, who are all in professions that are linked to the world of artistic or intellectual creation in some way or another. That’s a fine market!{{HTR: What original approach will gain the sympathy and business of this population?E.Z.:}} Surveys show that the first ten minutes spent in a hotel are crucial to a successful stay and the guest’s state of mind. This is where we will surprise and innovate. With help from a group of designers, who are members of a team called LM100, we will work on the entry, the hall, reception, elevators, the room key. This approach is a bit original, resulting in the creation of an all-new position in the hotel industry, that of “curator” which may be understood as “artistic director”. This job was entrusted to Jérôme Sans, who is responsible in particular for the relaunch of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and who will recruit the first members of LM100. It includes graphic designers, musicians, sculptors, perfumers... as well as French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a sommelier, Linda Grabbe. Jérôme asked them to “rewrite the hotel’s alphabet” in their own terms. We offer the vast majority a small supplement of soul that is generally reserved for the élite.{{HTR: Are you counting on them to open Le Méridien up to the world of creation?E.Z.:}} Each in his own way will produce his version of this cultural challenge, which may be found on the hotel walls, the atmosphere of the hall, in the restaurant’s menu... the key to the room is a work of art in itself that was entrusted to a graphic designer and it will be changed on a regular basis so the client may keep it as a collector’s item. This “Unlock Art” concept goes even further because Le Méridien has entered into partnerships with an institution such as museums and galleries in each town where it is located. These, in turn, will welcome our guests upon simple presentation of the room key. We have also created a “One Night” concept around a cultural event that will allow clients and creators to meet one another in the hotel. In each city the hotel must be synonymous with regular encounters to reinforce our commitment.{{HTR:Will you limit yourselves to this cultural dimension?E.Z.:}} We have simultaneously begun several projects for the Le Méridien product, and these will be realized in 2008. I cannot say any more for the moment, but our considerations bear on cuisine with Jean-Georges, in-room services and, more generally speaking, the redefinition of service.

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