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Starwood strengthens hotel brands

American hotel giant looks to core values for brand diversification

The acquisition of Le Meridien at the end of last year has not only increased the Starwood portfolio but has also presented the company with a new set of challenges on how to best integrate the brand into its existing family. The European brand, with its French etiquette levels of service, sits like a square peg in a round hole amid the American brands of Sheraton, Westin, W and Four Points.

However, Ahmed Baki, regional director of sales & marketing for Starwood in the Middle East, believes that it is not a case of Le Meridien ‘fitting in’, but more about making sure each Starwood brand stands apart.

“We are having to learn a whole new language, and develop a different way of doing business. With Le Meridien acquisition, we went from 25 hotels to 40 in the Middle East, and 130 worldwide,” Baki explained.

According to Baki, it was time to move away from the ‘heavenly bed’ concept of marketing. “Everyone followed us on that, and it started to look like we were not any different,” he said.

There are now eight brands under the Starwood umbrella, and the company’s marketing experts are now focusing on branding rather than blanket marketing activities. “We’ve started looking into three core values per brand to differentiate the eight brands. For example, ‘comfort, connections and belonging’ sum up the Sheraton brand,” Baki said. For Le Meridien, the key words are ‘chic’, ‘cultured’ and ‘discovery’.

Pam Wilby, general manager for both Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa and the Grosvenor House by Le Meridien in Dubai, is assisting in the Le Meridien branding exercise.

“I am on Le Meridien brand council. They have been asking us to define the brand and merge it more with Starwood. Le Meridien offers a French touch with European flavour. The brand is about our etiquette and the way we deliver our service,” Wilby said.

Meanwhile for W — which is set to debut in the Middle East in 2008 — Starwood is playing around with ‘flirty’, ‘insider’ and ‘escape’, as its core brand values.

“W is a trendy, yuppie brand that doesn’t exist here in Dubai. It’s hot. It’s in demand, and investors are looking out for it. W is the fastest growing hotel brand worldwide, and we are already preparing our launch plan,” Baki said.

Brand specific websites are also being developed, while brand standards in hotel hardware, room size and food and beverage options are also vital.

However, with 30,000 new hotel colleagues, it is not just above the line marketing that Baki and his colleagues have to concern themselves with. Already, the company is rolling out brand training to teach Le Meridien ‘Starwood language’, although, as Baki pointed out: “We will keep the identity of Le Meridien, which is most important.”

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