Starwood’s Nichlas Maratos opines that smaller budgets for general meetings have in turn led to a growing demand in incentive travel.


What are some lessons learnt in 2012?

Despite the slowdown in recovery in the second half of 2012, Starwood performed well, strongly growing our footprint and sustaining high RevPar and occupancies in an uncertain environment.
We are bullish as ever on long-term growth and we believe we are on the cusp of a new golden age of travel. Across Asia Pacific, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are booming. China hit a pause button in the midst of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition but the prospect for both domestic and outbound travel is looking bright for 2013.

What are some trends in the MICE industry that you have witnessed recently?

Based on forward bookings, we expect meeting spend to increase, in line with an expected increase in the number of events held in 2013 and the number of participants per event.
We have also noticed increased demand from the incentive travel segment at our high-end luxury properties. This indicates that while the budget per head has fallen for general meetings, companies are willing to spend more to reward their top performers in a bid to retain them and to keep them highly motivated.
More and more companies are building corporate social responsibility into their meetings and incentives programmes. Many of our clients now combine corporate meetings with a bit of community service or environmental activities on the side. There are various ways in which clients choose to do this, including half-day meetings or community service programmes such as building schools. For example, at The Andaman, a Luxury Collection Resort, we offer an environmental programme called coral nursery that allow groups to participate and learn about coral rescue and rehabilitation.

We also have had to be very flexible and nimble. In some markets such as China, the booking window is often just a week. This means that everything we do now – the process, contracting, billing etc – has to be done at lightning speed. We organise site inspections on the same day or the next day. We have a Meetings Planner Satisfaction Index to tell us what needs more attention. We now do business the way our customers want.

Which markets are of utmost importance to Starwood this year, and how does Starwood intend to reach out to them?

China will continue to be our key growth driver because its domestic group travel remains quite strong. Meetings and incentive travel to tourist spots such as Hainan, Changbaishan and other resort destinations are expected to be strong.

Starwood has a very strong sales platform that helps ease the ways customers interact with us. We believe selling is a global affair. No matter where our customers are in the world, our global and on-property sales and marketing teams work collaboratively to reach out to them. In addition, we also attend tradeshows and expos to expand our network and outreach, as well as organise our own Starwood Expos to provide a platform for our customers to receive updates and meet with our hotels’ teams face-to-face.