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Inked in innovation

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Since the first opening in 2007, Westin has gone all out to make its presence felt in India. From the Heavenly Bed in malls and airports to the recent Gear Lending programme, the hard work has paid off as more Westin hotels are preparing to open doors in India. By Sayoni Bhaduri

Dilip Puri

From a bevy of brands under the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide umbrella, Westin has been the one which has made the biggest impact in the Indian accommodation space. “It was the combination of timing and the right location which has worked well for the brand. We have been able to create the right brand perception,” Dilip Puri, managing director, India and regional vice president South Asia, Starwood attributes to the success of the brand. The first Westin in India was the Westin Sohna which opened in 2007 and the plan is to have 11 Westin hotels operational by 2016. Some of the new locations which the company is looking at include Bekal, Kolkata, Khandala, Jaipur and Noida.

Innovation over 80 years

Brian Povinelli

The origin of the brand dates back to 1930 when rival hoteliers S W Thurston and Frank Dupar came together to create Western Hotels. This was later renamed as Westin Hotels & Resorts. The brand was taken over by Starwood in 1998. The hotel brand is known for pioneering innovations; these include the inception of 24-hour room service, hotel credit cards and the introduction of the Heavenly Bed in 1999. “Innovation has been part of Westin’s brand evolution. And it is a history which is 80 years old,” says Brian Povinelli, global brand leader, Westin Hotels & Resorts. Of the Westin Heavenly Bed he says that before Westin no hotel company was focusing on the sleep experience. Today the Heavenly Bed is retailed to guests and as many as quarter of a million of these beds have been sold. Westin was also the first hotel company to gain retail store presence when Nordstrom began carrying its Heavenly line in more than 60 stores. Westin has sold more than 60,000 beds and 100,000 pillows and has expanded to include a signature line of White Tea scented candles and diffusers and Heavenly Bath amenity line. Today Westin’s retail programme is a US$20 million per year business. The brand has recently tied up with Delta Airlines to enhance the airline’s BusinessElite cabins by designing customised sleep products. In India, Starwood used the Heavenly Bed as a marketing tool. The bed was showcased at key airports and malls in the country to create an awareness about the brand.

The sense and need to stay ahead continues for Westin and so does the innovation. Added to that is the brand’s underlying essence of health and well being. Povinelli explains that the Westin Workout is a seven year old concept and recently they added the option where the guest and borrow work out gear. The Gear Lending programme has been introduced in all 194 Westin hotels globally in association with New Balance. For just Euro 5 guests can borrow running shoes with disposable insoles, as well as a variety of mens and womens New Balance apparel including shorts, shirts and socks for men and shorts, capri pants, shirts, sports bras and socks for women.

Another initiative that the brand has taken up is the Tangent at Westin workspace. What was previously known as Project Hive, Tangent is flexible workspace for small meetings. There are four hotels offering this currently in the world and by the end of the year 40 more are planned. India, however is not on that list yet. “In our efforts to meet the needs of today’s mobile traveller, we are changing the way we do business to better customise the guest experience. While a hotel room or lobby is a place where you can do work, Tangent was specifically designed as a smart room and personalised work space that enhances productivity and can be booked on demand,” says Povinelli.

India story

Westin Hotels & Resorts is considered one of the most innovative hotel brands in the industry. For Starwood in India, Westin, as Puri describes, is the calling card. “We have opened four Westin hotels in India consecutively starting with the Sohna project. Now we are looking up ramping up the brand’s visibility with more openings in India. This is not an accidental success. We have demonstrated our skills and the hotels ability to generate a good RevPAR and increase in top line,” he says confidently. The most recent addition was the Westin Chennai Velachery. Developed by Mfar Hotels the hotel has 215 rooms, three F&b outlets and 12 meeting space with a maximum size of 4360 sq ft. Puri’s expresses Starwood’s belief, “Starwood’s philosophy has always been to build the right hotel in the right place at the right time with the right partner.” He adds that this has been crucial to the success of the various brands under the company’s fold. For the Chennai property he is looking at a strengthened relationship with the developers, “With the set up of the Westin Velachery we are looking at a stronger relationship with Mfar hotels in the future.” He is also buoyant regarding Chennai as a market. Overall Starwood is looking at 36 hotels in India of which 25 are under development. The aim is to have at least 100 hotels (operational or under development) by 2015.

With locations like Bekal and Khandala in the pipeline the focus for the brand seems to be shifting to resort locations. Puri accepts this as he says, “In the future we will look at developing the resort format. Sohna did well; we intend to take it forward. Resort opportunity is great in India and for the Indian traveller.” As to the success of Westin in India he says that the positioning and distinctiveness has been crucial, there is no baggage of the mother brand.

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