Starwood Boldly Shifts To Brand Focus

WHITE PLAINS, NY? Starwood Hotels & Resorts will manage its properties by brand rather than by geographical region, marking a bold move in how the company does business. Along with that announcement? made 18 months after ITT Sheraton and Westin Hotels & Resorts Worldwide came under the same umbrella? comes news that the Sheraton brand will introduce a satisfaction guaranteed program, rebating customers up to 100% of their charges if they are not satisfied with their guest experience. That program, along with a new employee training program, will kick in the second quarter of this year, said Randy Kwasniewski, who was just named executive vp of Sheraton hotel operations, a role that also includes supervision of the Four Points andLuxury Collection brands. Kwasniewski?s promotion from senior vp/operations coincides with Norman MacLeod?s promotion from that same title to executive vp of Westin hotel operations. As part of Starwood?s new brand focus, each executive in these newly named positions will oversee his respective brands and will have a number of operating executives reporting to them. Each will be responsible for owned, managed and franchised hotels within their brands. Kwasniewski and MacLeod report to Ted Darnall, president, North America Hotel Operations. Meanwhile, John Greenleaf was hired as vp/brand management for Sheraton; he was formerly vp/marketing for Renaissance Hotels. These moves come weeks after the departure of Jurgen Bartels, the former CEO of Starwood?s hotel group. While Starwood has made no public comments about Bartels? departure, which came after Starwood said it was abolishing its group structure, it was perceived in some circles that the Westin brand was being favored over others within Starwood because Bartels had headed Westin prior to the merger. Darnall said that Starwood made the move to work through a branded structure because there are consumers who are specifically loyal to each brand. ?Research showed customers were loyal to the brands and we didn?t want that to go away,? he said. Darnall said that long term, there was a concern that multiple brands, managed together geographically, could cause their standards to ?bleed together.? Darnall said, however, that the initial geographic management of hotels helped the merging company find synergies in back-of-the house systems. Now, he said, Starwood brand executives will work on ?over-exaggerating the uniqueness of their brands to ensure their identities.? Because Sheraton, Westin and the W brands are in the same industry tier, their differences must be clearly defined to the customer, said Darnall. ?They all have separate styles. The Sheraton brand is slightly more conservative, more of a Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers style.? Westin, he said, is more urban and modern, while W is younger, with a clientele more interested in design and style. Franchisees applaud the move. ?We are very supportive of the brand focus,? said Jay Mahan, president of the Association of Sheraton Franchisees of North America, which includes Sheraton owners and Four Points owners. Kwasniewski said in heading up Sheraton operations he will be ?going back to the fundamentals of business.? He said he will follow the guidelines of customer service that go along with those suggested by the JD Powers surveys. ?We will introduce a service guarantee,? he said. ?If a customer is not satisfied, we will rebate them in part or in whole,? he said. The program will be instituted by the beginning of the second quarter and will be unique to the Sheraton brand, he said. ?We have redeveloped our standard operating procedures to ensure all [Sheraton] hotels are operating with the same standards so the experience the customer has in each hotel is alike,? he said. Kwasniewski said this change is being implemented because ?some of our hotels weren?t up to speed.? Coinciding with this change will be a new employee training program, which will also be implemented in the second quarter, cal