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Who’s sleeping with Westin?
A once-sleepy brand has awakened, 

no small thanks to a big, white bed
.
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By Megan Rowe, Managing Editor, E-Hospitality.com, [email protected], October 2000

When the predecessor of Starwood Hotels & Resorts first took a stake in the Westin chain five years ago, the company had been buffeted by a series of owners and management teams in a short time. And while it was an established, respected brand, the system’s growth had stalled, leaving just under 100 properties—certainly enough for a hotel chain, especially in the subluxury sector, but not quite enough to register on most travelers’ radar. Westin may have had a loyal audience, but that audience probably wasn’t huge and wasn’t growing.

Today, the 70-year-old brand is reinvigorated, thanks to some sassy marketing moves and one crucial addition—the Heavenly Bed—that helped set Westin apart from its many competitors.
 

Barry Sternlicht, now chairman of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, was the catalyst for change. One of his first orders of business was to call all the properties’ top managers together for the company’s first global conference. “I’ll never forget the first day,” says Sue Brush, now VP of marketing for Westin. “Seven of the board members walked in and it was a dramatic moment because it was the changing of the guard: All of them were in business suits, with short, dark hair; none of them were over the age of 40.”

Sternlicht and several other board members made their voices heard quickly. First order of business: revamp the marketing and advertising. The newcomers were concerned that Westin's


Sue Brush
VP of Marketing,  Westin
existing marketing was too generic and wasn’t properly conveying Westin’s distinctive qualities. “These were people with a real estate and financial background, and they could look at it with fresh eyes,” Brush recalls. “That enthusiasm brought the fun to the party. They asked, ‘Do you have any idea what a fabulous portfolio you have, what an exciting industry this is, what an impact we can have?” 

About 90 days later, Westin launched the “Who is she sleeping with?” campaign, a racy attention-grabber. The cheeky ads, designed to differentiate Westin from its competitors, which lean toward the more traditional marketing approach, have continued. The latest round, “RSVP Westin,” uses formal-looking invitations to promote Westin’s beds and other amenities in an irreverent style. 

Evaluating the brand from a guest’s standpoint, not an operator’s, inspired another more recent Sternlicht brainchild: the Heavenly Bed. The bed--a cloudy, white 10-layer confection--dominates the guestroom. A $30-million investment, it stands as a monument to providing a good night’s sleep, what Sternlicht saw as a core competency for a hotel. It has also inspired a rash of copycats; Marriott just announced it will be adding a similar design to some of its Marriott and Renaissance properties, and designers are specifying comforters more often these days.

A panel tested 40 different mattresses and a variety of pillows, and the company hired a design team to come up with the look. Members tested white, off-white and beige for stain resistance, and they decided the white would be easiest to maintain. The color had the most visual impact as well. “You walk in, and it’s a ‘wow,’” Brush says.

The effect of the bed “has exceeded everyone’s expectations unbelievably,” Brush says. She says “the halo effect” (no pun intended) has pushed overall guest satisfaction scores up 5.8%. Scores of perceived cleanliness are up 12%. “The feeling is if these people can maintain a bright, white luscious bed like that, the entire hotel must be spotless,” she says. More important, business is up and surveys show that guests are willing to pay $12-$20 more a night to stay in a room with a Heavenly Bed. Guests buy three of the beds a day to take home.

Despite its impact, the bed is only one aspect of a sharper focus on design for Westin. Under Starwood’s ownership, the chain developed model rooms for the first time. “We haven’t been a cookie cutter brand and we don’t want to start now,” Brush says. But the model rooms, along with a “Westin Look Book,” help designers and developers achieve some level of consistency. “Every developer we talk to, every GM, every ad agency can look at it and say, ‘I get it, that’s a Westin,’” Brush says.

Starwood has also revitalized Westin’s development. In its first 65 years, the chain grew to 90-95 hotels; within the last five, it has expanded to 121. Earlier this year, Starwood converted nine Luxury Collection hotels in Europe to Westins.

“That sent two messages,” Brush says. “First, that we’re here in Europe now. It also made a very, very positive statement about the quality of the brand.”

Megan Rowe is the Managing Editor, E-Hospitality.com, and can be reached at [email protected]


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