Emergence of new-age customers and the need for fluidity in spaces has led to rethink in Sheraton's hotel design and experiences

Some of this transformation is likely to reflect in one of their India hotels — Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Centre, Marriott’s 100th hotel in the country

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Sheraton Grand Bengaluru, Branding, Marketing, New experieneces, Millenials, Transformation, Guest experience, Hospitality, Logo, Rebranding, F&B, Services

The future of global hotel chains will increasingly be driven by the convergence of a highly competitive landscape marked by a digital explosion of information and the aspirational new customer seeking out unique experiences. In order to survive, hotel chains will not just have to incorporate big data insights. They will also have to provide personalised services, continuously develop the brand through signature experiences, utilise collaboration and open innovation to maintain an edge in technology and service, and through total revenue management, generate ancillary revenues while maximising guest spend. This, sometimes, involves a complete overhaul — not just in terms of amenities and experiences within hotels, but even re-branding hotels and redesigning them to keep up with changing guests’ needs and contemporary times.

As Brendan Richard from the University of Central Florida, in his research paper called Hotel Chains: survival strategies for dynamic future, writes, “Guests are becoming more diverse, both demographically and in their expectations. Globally, an exploding middle class will necessitate brand restructuring to accommodate a more diverse customer base. Millennials, already a significant percent of the global workforce are, more so than previous generations, social beings that crave instant satisfaction, exploration, and smart spending according to an Ernst & Young report.”

Arne Sorenson, president and ceo, Marriott International

Transforming brand strategy

Transformation, then, is the name of the survival game. A case study of transforming to meet the demands of the future involves Marriott International's announcement of its vision for Sheraton Transformation, which talks about reverting to the hotel's roots as the gathering place for locals and guests. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts is the most  global of Marriott’s 30 brands. Set up in 1937, today the hotels are in some of the best locations in world, even though some of them seem a bit outdated, while others are plush and modern. As per Marriott, since the merger of the group and Starwood in September 2016, 5,000 rooms have been signed on to the Sheraton portfolio and the group generates US $9.2 billion in property revenue globally; the collection currently consists of nearly 450 hotels with 80 additional projects in the pipeline. By 2020, the brand’s footprint is expected to expand to 90 countries. Therefore, the need for transformation. From creating new spaces, launching new concepts to initiating a new campaign, Heart of the City, the group is taking the bull by its horn and has launched a series of new initiatives.

Case Study

How the 80-year-old brand is reinventing itself

Marriott International has announced a vision for Sheraton Transformation, and has estimated $500 million dollars of owner investment just in the US. It showcased its vision at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York, bringing to life the company’s brand strategy as well as its signature focus on guest experiences, hotel operations and design philosophy. Interestingly, some of this transformation is likely to reflect in one of their India hotels — Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Centre, Marriott’s 100th hotel in the country, which opened last year.

Redesign the logo: First off the ground was a redesign of the logo to reflect changing priorities; it has an eye on the future while hearkening back to Sheraton's history. The new logo reimagines the signature laurel as movement from the world and the energy of gathering, which point to the modernised Sheraton “S” redrawn at the centre. Winkie Wong, senior director - brand & marketing, Asia Pacific, Marriott International says, “With hotels in over 70 countries and territories around the globe, the laurels in Sheraton’s signature crest were reimagined into a closed circle to represent the world. We combined it with an identity design that celebrates the energy of gathering.”

Redesign and create new spaces and concepts: In 2018, Marriott International unveiled a new design vision, a prototype of which they built at the NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference. Reverting to its roots as the gathering place for locals and guests, Sheraton amplifies that legacy by leaning into services and design that enable socialisation, productivity and personalisation. Its strategy features collaborative venues and technology-enabled designs. Sheraton Grand Phoenix, which will open in the first quarter of 2020, will be a jewel box for the revamped hotel chain. The new design will include community tables where people can work, as well as studio spaces that can be rented. The design also includes transforming business lounges into Coffee Bar/Bar, envisioned to seamlessly transition from day to night, an amalgamation of some perennial trends we’ve seen in hospitality: co-working, all-day dining and flexible meeting spaces that transform into a bar in the evenings.

Almost 25% of Marriott’s Sheraton hotels worldwide are committing to renovations that involve both the guestrooms and public spaces. Among them is Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Centre, which I visited last month for the launch of Heart for the City campaign. Faiz Alam Ansari, the GM of the property says, “The hotel has enough spaces to add elements of the new design and experiences. For instance, a Productivity Table or community table with functionality such as plugs, charging stations, wireless mobile charging and lockable drawers can be added within the public spaces near the lobby.”

The existing business centre, again at the lobby level, could be transformed into studio spaces that will be equipped with workstations, furnished with technology and tools to allow for small meetings. Coffee Bar/Bar is a concept Ansari is most excited about — a new-age coffee shop that will serve breakfast in the morning, can be used as work space in the day and transform into a cocktail bar in the evening. “You should be able to do a grab-and-go or get them to serve it up to you at the bar, or your table. You should also be able to order via mobile,” he adds.

Heart for the city campaign: “At the heart of the transformation process is a series of experiential tours that Sheraton hotels takes guests on — an unexpected journey of their city. The experience includes community programming at the hotels,” adds Wong. To offer an example, Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield recently curated an offbeat city experience that included a cycle tour with Unventured, a small experiential travel company, which took us down the gentle Nandi Hills. The exploration included a stopover at a 3rd generation clay-potter and silk extraction units in the Sultanpet Village; an exploration of a carved 9th century Bhoga Nandishwara Temple; and a stopover at Nandi Halt, a 100-year-old railway station near the Nandi Village.

The strategies of the future

Winkie Wong, senior director, brand & marketing, Asia Pacific, Marriott International

There is a need to make sure a brand stays relevant for today’s guests, says Winkie Wong, senior director, brand & marketing, Asia Pacific, Marriott International. She delineates several strategies that hotels can adopt.

Branding and marketing a hotel for contemporary hotels: The market landscape is different in today’s dynamic world. Guests are looking beyond just price comparison. A hotel brand allows potential guests to know what to expect in terms of overall positioning and experiences. It’s also an important factor in building loyalty. When a guest stays at a hotel that he/she had a memorable experience in, the chances of that guest choosing to experience the same brand in another destination increases.

Marketing to a younger, more aspirational audience: It’s important to know what media channels our younger audience interact with, and they are not always traditional channels such as TV and radio anymore. Everyone knows digital is key. But more importantly, we need to understand how we can identify the right segment profile for each brand, understand their online behaviour, and target and retarget effectively. Using branding to differentiate their hotels in a crowded market: A clear brand gives customers a sense of what to expect, from service culture to facilities and room standards. Marriott International has 30 leading brands in its portfolio, therefore ensuring there is a brand that fits almost anyone. Guests can choose across a spectrum of luxury, upper upscale and select brands that spans across classic timeline positioning to distinctive lifestyle positioning.

Using social media to brand and market: Social media is an important supplement to existing branding and marketing strategies. For Sheraton Hotels, we are looking beyond social media as a broadcasting platform. Think of it as something our audience naturally engages in. For example, in our recent Heart for the City event in Sheraton Bengaluru Whitefield, we purposefully designed vignettes that celebrate the culture of Bengaluru and offer ‘Instagrammable’ moments to our guests to share on their own social media channels. The event also exemplifies Sheraton’s continued commitment to local communities through experiences that tie back to the local Whitefield community.

F&B and banqueting offerings as differentiators: We’re not just talking about the fundamentals such as taste, variety and relevance to the target customers. We have to think about how the overall concept comes through in the décor of the restaurant, the chef’s interaction with guests, even the plating of the dishes and more. In some cases, the F&B stories in a hotel can become very strong unique selling points in its marketing strategy. For example, breakfast at Feast restaurant at Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield offers an international spread alongside regional specialties such as ragi ambli (ragi buttermilk), crisp akki roti and tender mutton saaru (meatball curry) from Mandya and Udipi-style rava dosa. This allows both local and international guests to really savour local flavours as well as international flavours. Wong adds, “Travellers seek authentic experiences and the opportunity for hotels is to connect guests with these local experiences. For example, Sheraton Bengaluru Whitefield’s Chime Bar features gin that is infused with herbs from each of India’s states and union territories, with spices from all over India. Another example is Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, where our newly renovated suites have stunning views of Hyde Park that is unique to the property.” Clearly, hotel are mining the data on their fingertips to come up with differential experiences that will help them rebrand and position for a more updated contemporary definition of hospitality.

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