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Brian Povinelli, Senior vice-president and Global Brand leader at Starwood Hotels, in charge of Westin and Le Méridien brands

Povinelli joined Starwood in 2006 to lead global brand marketing for Sheraton during what was a pivotal time in the brand’s history, managing the marketing strategy and repositioning. After some times he was given the responsibility to manage also the Westin brand. Late 2012, following an internal re-organization he was promoted global brand leader for Westin and Le Méridien. Prior to Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Povinelli was the vice president of global integrated marketing at Reebok. Brian started his career at W.B. Doner & Company Advertising where he spent eight years between their Cleveland and London offices.

How do you foresee the integration of Le Méridien in the new Marriott portfolio once the merger of your two companies is completed?

We have done a tremendous job at driving our brands forward prior to the merger with Marriott, which then enters us into a larger environment.

In the case of Le Méridien, progress has been strong over last three years, not only in terms of footprints in various territories but also in repositioning the brand. We’re working to meet the consumers' needs, not only leisure but business clients together.

The differentiation between our hotel brands is stronger than ever and we’ll continue to build on this aspect. This was one of the biggest factors that drove the Marriott merger. They recognised the power of the loyalty program, SPG, but also the emotional connection clients have with our brands. Marriott often like to promote their operational excellence and we certainly can advertise our marketing excellence – the combination of the two makes sense.

Would you fear any potential overlaps between all the brands?
Indeed going from eleven to thirty brands there will be areas of overlaps and we will have to be cautious and imaginative to navigate through these areas.

It is part of the work we have to tackle once the merger is completed. We are looking at how to create more defined "swim lanes" for each brand.

As a brand guy, it's a fun job. Le Méridien has a rich history, which we can expose and redefine. Our challenge will be to help our clients to navigate among these thirty brands and pick the best one to suit their needs and requirements.

And what role would you assume to Le Méridien?
The relaunch of Le Méridien Etoile next September will be a symbolic starting point. We have fully renovated the property in hope we can showcase the spirit of the brand and the changes we have undergone in the last three years.

Since Starwood Hotels and Resorts acquired the Le Méridien, 11 years ago, we fine-tuned the portfolio, which saw us exit some hotels, while bringing in forty more properties of a newer generation.

Chic, Culture, Discovery has remained our core thinking – coupled with Destination Unlocked – and we’ve worked hard to translate this through our product and the services – making them more accessible to everyone.

The basic concept, whether it’s for business or for leisure, helps our guest to experience the destination they’re in without stepping outside of the hotel grounds.

It's a simple idea but none of the brands in the upper scale segment manage to deliver this.

And that is our challenge. In other words, if I never left the hotel would I get some that sense of the destination? We do that through, what we call, our filters of discovery: the neighbourhood of the hotel, the culture and the cuisine.

This is really how we are activating the program. That is where we found there is an open space for a new marketing in hospitality. We will deliver that experience for you in a hundred places plus around the world.  Whether you are on a business trip and only a small amount of time or for leisure where you might have three days to connect with the destination.

Would you still insist on the cultural and artistic dimension of Le Méridien image?

It’s true the brand has been very much associated with art, and even more contemporary art, and what we found is the concept was not accessible enough to the majority of the clientele.

The challenge I was given three years ago when I was assigned to the brand was how to make it more accessible and how to accelerate growth.

Instead of just unlocking the art, we try to unlock the destination. A good example of this movement is what we have done in London. We went from collaborating with Tate Modern Museum, London, to partnering  with Gray Malin, a famous US fine art photographer, who we’re now with on a third instalment of the Follow Me program. This resonates with the influence of mid-century modern design with a local twist that you can feel and experience at Le Méridien.

What about the LM100 group of artists who were helping to build the image of the brand?

It’s now in the past. We had some amazing artists gathered by Jérôme Sans, the curator of the group, but now it’s more important to translate the spirit of the destination into the guest experience. Even for our associates, it’s easier for them to explain and share their feelings about the cuisine of their destination than about contemporary art.

And what about the cuisine, how do you intend to integrate your concept into the guest experience?

We are currently activating, in a select number of hotels, themed parties to celebrate summer.  

Recently in the Le Méridien Piccadilly, London, we brought Le Meridien Nice to the capital – unlocking this destination through cuisine - provençale recipes. The real experience is to bring local cuisine through signature offerings. Cuisine is a great way to activate the public space and a great way to tell a story

You can see this through our hotel lobbies too – these operate as  the Hub, as we call it, coffee houses by day and cocktail lounges by night.

Our coffee house offering is strengthen through our partnership with Illy Café and the signature Eclair which each of the hotels have created. Our pastry chefs have interpreted the traditional recipe, using local ingredients to reflect its location.

In the evening, we have a program called Sparkling which allows our barmen to be creative with cocktail, again using local flavours and products.

You were one of the first brand to re-invent the lobby and the public spaces, making them more active and profitable, are you satisfied with the outcome?

We were able to manage two things: drive incremental revenues through programs I just mentioned, and secondly to create space where people want to spend some time.

The key measure of success so far is how it activated our lobbies, generating more revenues and even creating more loyalty and return business. We have a lot of positive feedback from our loyal guests. We wouldn’t have such a penetration of the concept throughout our portfolio if it hadn’t been a success. So far, two thirds of Le Méridien hotels have invested in The Hub, as we call it.

Would you go even further and organize spaces dedicated to co-workers looking for adequate locations and high-speed Wi-Fi?

We don’t intend to activate this as a concept, but we certainly look at how The Hub is used.

It all depends if the hotels have some available space to do it. But you’re right, it’s a challenging dynamic and Wi-Fi connection is seen as a normal feature, just like air and water.

For another brand within the Starwood Hotels portfolio, Westin, we created a “tangent space” with specific equipment dedicated to independent workers or small groups of business clients, and we charge a fee by the hour for using the space with a high-speed internet connection. We have about 55 five of these Tangent stations around the world.

You mentioned your second challenge apart from repositioning the brand, which is to increase its footprints, how do you look on that?

We operate 104 properties and we have a pipeline of thirty plus hotels to open in the next two to three years. That’s the largest expansion programme in the history of the brand. Sometimes it’s a re-enforcement of our presence, but in most case is the opening of a new market. Asia continues to be a strong area for growth, in North America we have doubled the portfolio in the last two years, with three more to come over the next eighteen months.

In Europe we are more focused on renovation in the key cities. Paris, as I mentioned, will be our latest renovation project, opening next September, and our hotel in London Piccadilly Circus will also undergo some refurbishments.

Vienna and Barcelona will get significant renovations and we are bringing the brand back to Rome, with a Méridien in close proximity to the Vatican.

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