By Tova Syrowicz
Starwood’s biannual senior leadership trip to “somewhere else” just took the impressive group to Dubai, where they discussed how luxury has evolved—a fitting topic not just for the location but also for a team that oversees The St. Regis, Luxury Collection and W brands.
The trio comprises 160 hotels in 39 countries, and is on track to pass the 200 mark in the next few years. By all accounts, it is the dawn of a new golden age in luxury travel, and not just in terms of volume. Dubai, says Paul James, global brand leader for Starwood’s luxury properties, is in many ways a city reflective of the change that has swept the luxury travel scene. It has more Starwood hotels and rooms than any other city in the world except New York, 80 percent of its population is non-national and 60 percent of its population is under 29.
Wealth is moving from established, familiar groups to young, entrepreneurial ones. People are amassing significant wealth at a younger age, and they are having families later than they used to. Once they do get married and have kids, they’re not about to compromise on the lifestyle they’ve worked so hard to achieve. And, per a recent McKinsey report released in the UK, the number one way in which UHNW individuals reward themselves is travel. Of Starwood guests today, James shares that “they have much higher expectations, are much more connected and are thus much more challenging.”
Starwood has been and continues to respond to this transition with the insight of a company on the pulse, and the wisdom of a collective hotelier experience that not only spans the globe, but stretches back many generations.
Authenticity is crucial, but so is perfect plumbing, speedy Wi-Fi and a tricked-out spa. To this end, Starwood has been renovating some of its most iconic, historic hotels in Europe, including the Gritti Palace in Venice and Prince de Galles in Paris. “Between ourselves and our partners,” James tells us, “we’ve invested about a quarter of a billion dollars in these renovations, with the trend being ‘do no harm.’”
Along with the renovations, service has also changed, as well as what’s on offer at hotel restaurants. “Before,” says James, “all our guests came from North America, and were fairly conservative. Now they are international and a lot more sophisticated, so cuisine needs to be more regional. The concierge service needs to be redefined and revalued for the iPad/tablet generation. …Anyone who isn’t a digital native has had to adapt.”
St. Regis hotels, meanwhile, are hosting as many kids as Westins. So this spring, St. Regis is launching a Family Traditions program. The St. Regis Mauritius, which opened last year as the brand’s 30th property, is the last beachfront hotel to open in Mauritius. It’s situated near one of the best spots in the world for kite-surfing—skeptics said St. Regis guests wouldn’t be drawn to this feature, but the property is brimming with wealthy adrenaline-junkie kite surfers, who want upscale spa, food and wine after a day on the waves.
W, already 15 years old if you can believe it, launched to address the generational shift in the definition of luxury. An early responder, the brand today has ever-expanding reach. In the last 12 months, W hotels opened in Paris, Bangkok and Singapore. Guangzhou, the first W in mainland China, opens this month. By year’s end, W Verbier will be the brand’s first ski retreat. “To say this is ever so slightly exciting is a complete understatement,” James shares.
Looking ahead, he also mentions new Luxury Collection properties in Warsaw, Cusco and Beirut, and St. Regis properties in Shenzhen, Abu Dhabi (on the Corniche) and Cairo. W, meanwhile, just announced plans to more than double its presence in Asia over the next five years, with 11 new properties in the region by 2018, including outposts in Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, Goa, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.