Regional – Starwood senior vice-president of sales for Asia Pacific, Alison Taylor, explains why the hotel chain’s varied brands and platforms offer event planners more than they can ask more.
What are some benefits event planners can expect when doing business with Starwood-operated hotels?
At Starwood, our team works towards one goal – to be the easiest company to do business with. Customers are key to driving our businesses and with this in mind, we structure our team and engineer our platforms to serve this purpose. As for benefits, I believe benefits we offer can be summarised under three pillars:
Starwood’s growing portfolio and differentiated lifestyle brands – Starwood continues an aggressive growth strategy and to date, we are one of the world’s largest luxury and upper-upscale hotel companies. With over 1100 hotels across 100 countries, Starwood hotel brands are well represented and present a variety for meeting planners to choose from and work with. On the other hand, as we continue to grow and enter new territories, more and more guests will become familiar with our brands. China is a great example. Sheraton was the first international hotel brand to enter China in 1985 and today, Sheraton brand is the largest global hotel brand. For over 25 years, the Chinese have become familiar with our brand and we know that when they travel abroad, they will most likely continue to stay with the brand they know from home.
Starwood’s Global Sales Platform – In addition to our growing portfolio, we have developed Starwood Global Sales Platform that equips our customers with tools and personal interaction. We created Starwood Sales Organization (SSO), a centralised sales organisation with over 5000 associates in nearly 100 countries, to ensure that we provide informative and seamless services to our global customers. As our customers become increasingly more global, we are adding sales resources around the world to ensure that we continue to provide the service that our customers depend on in markets where they are doing business. In addition to SSO, Starwood also develops various tools that customers can utilise in light of a shorter lead time which appears to be a trend in today’s meetings business. Starwoodmeetings.com has been designed for this purpose- it serves as an integrated portal for meeting planners to search for a venue in locations they are looking for. The site offers compare views where planners can do a comparison of different Starwood hotels to evaluate their best options, and they can submit RFP on the site. Global and Division Group offers are another benefit under this platform that meeting planners can take advantage of. These group offers create a standardised base offer for participating hotels, making it easy for customers to remember and work with us.
Loyalty program for meeting planners – Starwood Preferred Planner (SPP) – We recognise the importance of our customers and value they bring to Starwood. The reward program SPP works in similar ways as our loyalty program Starwood Preferred Guest®. Planners can earn Starpoints™ for meetings they actualise. Starpoints is then accumulated in the same account as Starwood Preferred Guest, which meeting planners can redeem for a wide number of rewards.
How are Starwood brands distinct and able to cater to the varied needs of Asian event planners?
Our nine unique compelling brands including St Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton, Westin, Le Méridien, Aloft, Four Points by Sheraton and Element, are created under the belief that ‘people want a better way to experience the world’. With our commitment to pacesetting innovation, lifestyle-focused design, signature services and strong traveller loyalty, our differentiated lifestyle brands provide opportunities to our guests as well as meeting planners to explore their creativity. For example, W Taipei turned a swimming pool into a runway for a fashion show. For health-conscious events, The Westin brand can provide meeting planners with SuperfoodsRX meeting breaks, which is very much part of the brand’s “wellness” experience. Because of our focus on offering differentiated lifestyle brands, we believe that meeting planners can utilise our branded experiences to provide a special touch to their events.
How well has the Starwood Preferred Planner programme been received? What are some exclusive perks event planners can get from Starwood hotels compared to others?
We believe what makes the SPP successful is the integration of rewards with our award-winning Starwood Preferred Guest. The programme allows them to accumulate Starpoints® within the sane account because we understand that our meeting guests also enjoy being guests at our hotels during their vacations.
Starwood Preferred Planner (SPP) rewards meeting planners every time they book with us, enabling them to earn and accumulate Starpoints® that can be redeemed for a wide number of rewards including Free Night Awards with no blackout dates on standard rooms, room upgrades at more than 1,000 hotels worldwide and credit on their next event’s master bill through Starwood’s Instant Meeting Awards(SM) program.
How has keeping up with event planners and visitors’ behaviour and expectations help keep Starwood ahead amongst other global hotel chains?
Starwood places great importance on innovation as we believe this is key to driving our business, and thanks to our global portfolio, this allows us to stay ahead of trends and tunes. For example, Starwoodmeetings.com was created to recognise there is a change in lead time and a need from meeting planners to get information quickly. As such, the portal is designed to provide essential information for event planning.
Another great example is the SPG applications for iPhone, iPad and Android, available in both Chinese and English. The SPG iPhone and Android App has been downloaded 1.3 million times since we launched 16 months ago. Revenue from mobile booking is up 1000 per cent year-on-year. Our goal is to bring mobile innovations to every touch point in terms of how we interact with guests before, after and during their stay.
The last touch point is our personalised services to two of the world’s most populous countries – China and India. Starwood understands the trends of global travellers. While we have nine compelling brands that appeal to people across culture and lifestyles, we also recognise that the increase in outbound travel from China and India are real phenomenon. With the growing number of outbound travellers from these two countries, we have launched Starwood Personalised Travel programme to cater to unique needs and preferences ranging from simple yet meaningful touches upon check-in to special amenities and menu items that are familiar to their palettes.