Interview with Eva Ziegler, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Global Brand Manager W and Le Méridien : W is about vibration, energy, everything is possible, whatever whenever

7 min reading time

Published on 02/11/09 - Updated on 17/03/22

As a preview for the opening of its property in Paris in 2011, W Hotels, the New YorkBorn Hotel Brand, created a VIP Lounge during the recent Paris Fashion Week. The brand showcased it’s passion for fashion, music, and design. Eva Ziegler took the occasion to announce the appointment of a renowned music expert as W Hotels’ first ever Global Music Director.

HTR Magazine: What is the purpose of your presentation in Paris, during the Fashion week, when the W hotel is only due in early 2011?E. Z.: In terms of openings, we have opened all the hotels that we intended to. Just to go forward is quite a challenge. Performance wise, W did suffer like other brands and wasn’t the exception to the rule. I can only say that we are starting to see the performance come back in New York and in other ci­ties, in terms of occupancy. It needs to be said that crisis is a time of opportunity to rethink and challenge yourself to come up with stronger solutions. We have worked strongly to optimize the processes while not affecting the guest experience. At the same time we are already imagining the future. We have worked with Patrick Jouin to create a vision of the next generation of suite, the WOW Suite that has been presented in a design exhibition in Sao Paulo. It makes people dream and I love some of his ideas within the directions that we provided.Eva Ziegler: We are using that international platform to edu­cate clients about the W concept. As much it is well known in the US, it is not yet the case in Europe. We opened our outs­tanding property in Barcelona on the 1st of October. The approach of W is very different from that of the socalled boutique hotel. What we have eventually in common is our sensibility to design but the W brand goes much further. First we have signature programming, which manages to be keep up W as a buzzing place. For example, in Barcelona, we work with partners, leaders in their field, such as Bliss Spa from New York; Carles Abellan, MichelinStar rated and acclaimed Catalan Chef for our signature restaurant, Ignite Group the Londonbased nightlife gurus, and so on. We also feature W The Store, where we launch a special fashion collection a line of acces­sories inspired by W 5 hotels that are newly opened. The collection is called Global Glam and is original to W. These initiatives show our passion for design and fashion which address our target clientele: the trendsetters… and their search for the latest, the newest, the hypest, the coolest.HTR: This is quite a challenge. How could you manage to keep W on top of the hype wave?E. Z.: That is why we insist so much on having very strong W programming in every location: what we call W Happenings. These are our kind of signature events where we bring our passion for music and entertainment alive, as in Doha where we organized multiple DJ’s events. We also support local and international talents, a reason why we have chosen Nouvelle Vague to entertain our guests in Paris. Generally speaking, W is really a platform for talent and we will promote them through a tour in Europe and the US in 120 locations. Somehow Paris is trying to conquer the US and we promote the New York trends globally. This is a constant promise from W to its clients. Through this programming W is aiming at becoming the coolest place in town everywhere. In Doha we have a program of eight W Happenings each month, in fashion, de­sign or entertainment. The mission of the marketing team is to keep the buzz going.HTR: W is typically a US, even a New York brand, how could you develop such an identified brand globally?E. Z.: Any kind of brand that is successful globally exports a framework and provides flexibility within that framework to take into account cultural differences. For example, our concierge service is called WhateverWhenever. In the philosophy of the brand, this service is delivered in a typical casual and informal way: but what casual means is very different from Hong Kong to Doha and that has to be adjusted. The clients should always feel that this is right. Another example is the living room, the W translation for lobby. First the different areas should complement one another so there is a constant flow of energy. And secondly, from a design perspective, we always manage to create “Moments of WOW” when you enter the hotel, these two elements constitute the framework and they are adjusted according to the destination. In Doha we have created a waveshaped sculpture bringing some elements of nature inside the hotel together with 70 different elements of lighting influenced by Arabic culture.HTR: Somehow, your approach is not so different from the various concepts of boutique or design hotels…E. Z.: The concept of boutique hotels generally goes with limi­ted distribution. With W we are talking of a network of 34 properties already in operation and 50 hotels by the year 2011. And it is not just the number of hotels but where we are adding them, in the vibrant places and exclusive resorts of the world. After Barcelona, we will open in London next year, then StPetersburg, and Paris to name a few.HTR: How could you maintain a coherent architectural ap­proach when in Barcelona it is a newly built hotel, designed by Riccardo Bo.l, and in Paris it will be located in a typical Haussmann building?E. Z.: You could have said that the first European W has been located in a typical Ottoman palace in Istanbul. The whole concept of W is based on contemporary design inspired by the location. We want to showcase how the W experience can come alive in an historic building or an architectural creation. We have won several design awards for the way the W concept was implemented, such as in Minneapolis where we have completely reinvented the Foshay Tower, dating from the roaring twenties and the prohibition era. We take on the location in a kind of modern, cool way.HTR: As you mentioned W is geared toward hyped, wealthy clientele. Isn’t it the one clientele who has been the most affected by the crisis and who might tend to privilege quaint authentic hotels instead of “show off” properties?E. Z.: First of all, talking about authenticity, we have just ap­pointed a music director for the brand, Michaelangelo L’Acqua, who worked closely with Tom Ford and Yves SaintLaurent for their fashion shows. He will maintain freshness in the music field. From an experiential perspective we have identified two areas where we will focus the brand: design/fashion and entertainment. We will bring experiences into the hotel. But obviously, the crisis also has taken its toll on W. We have cut on ostentation, over the top elements, to not offend people. On the other side, the whole phenomenon of selfindulgence, “seen and to be seen”, is not completely out. We want to position also W as the escape from everyday life. From my experience, the world of WOW is still relevant for many many years to come. The search for glamour and dreams is still strong among our clientele.HTR: How can a brand such as W cope with a major trend of environmental consideration?E. Z.: Basically, as a contemporary brand, the green approach is part of our global thinking. Starwood Hotel, as a group, has a basic green approach across the brands. It is not specifically something that is promoted by W but we also want our escape to be “guilt free” through details in our daytoday operations. It is part of the whole delivery of the experience.HTR: You are in charge of both design and contemporary brands: W and Le Méridien. Could there be areas of con.ict in positioning?E. Z.: The two brands are very different. W was founded in 1998 by Starwood with one hotel in New York, and Le Méridien was bought in 2005 with a long period of re-defining its strategy and repositioning its portfolio. Do I see any overlap now? Actually the easiest way to answer that question is to get back to the roots: W is New York born and Le Méridien is Paris born. New York versus Paris… very different personalities. One is about vibration, energy, dynamism, 24/7, everything is possible, whateverwhenever. The other one is more about creativity, discovery, cultural approach, to understand why, putting things into new perspectives.HTR: Do you feel that W is more and more challenged by other brands that are also trying to capitalize on the life­style-hype approach?E. Z.: Many brands tried to challenge W in the past, but I ha­ven’t seen these brands generating momentum. Launching a new brand now is even more difficult because investors are looking for proven solutions and guaranteed success. W already has a proven record of performances for the past ten years and is now entering a new era in terms of distribution and covering the world. The other thing that should never be underestimated is the power of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program. Around 60% of W clients are SPGers. It pays, especially in tough times.HTR: You referred to the brand’s performance. Have you managed to face the international crisis safely?E. Z.: In terms of openings, we have opened all the hotels that we intended to. Just to go forward is quite a challenge. Performance wise, W did suffer like other brands and wasn’t the exception to the rule. I can only say that we are starting to see the performance come back in New York and in other ci­ties, in terms of occupancy. It needs to be said that crisis is a time of opportunity to rethink and challenge yourself to come up with stronger solutions. We have worked strongly to optimize the processes while not affecting the guest experience. At the same time we are already imagining the future. We have worked with Patrick Jouin to create a vision of the next generation of suite, the WOW Suite that has been presented in a design exhibition in Sao Paulo. It makes people dream and I love some of his ideas within the directions that we provided.

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