ROELAND VOS, president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Europe, Africa & Middle East was recently in Dubai with the company’s top 100 global executives for the company’s annual leadership conference.
Taking place in the region for the first time, it underscores the importance of the region as one of Starwood’s fastest-growing hotel and travel markets. In another bold move to emphasise Starwood’s approach to cultivating a more global culture, the company announced today that it will relocate its US-based headquarters to the Middle East in 2013 for a month-long managerial endeavour.
“Dubai stands in the centre of the crossroads on a global scale and we are proud of what we have to show for in this part of the world,” said Vos.
“2011 was a fantastic year for us. We signed 120 new management deals, a first for Starwood in a year. We opened more than 80 new hotels across all our brands.
In the Middle East the focus has been on the luxury brands including the St Regis and the W, which has since grown tremendously,” he further added.
Vos is quick to add that while the market has been competitive in both the St Regis destinations - Abu Dhabi and Doha, he is confident that the properties will be positioned at the absolute top and will create a market for itself.
“Once the guest has had a taste of the St Regis experience, there is no going back and this is something we have witnessed in our 16,000-member SPG loyalty scheme programmes,” he said.
Starwood continues to strengthen its position in the region with a continuously growing portfolio of nearly 70 hotels and a pipeline of 40 new hotels. This growth, primarily in the luxury and upper-upscale segments, represents an increase of nearly 60 per cent over the next five years. In the past 18 months, Starwood has debuted six new hotels across Mena and the momentum continues in the region where the company has recently inked deals for 10 additional hotels.
Its latest announcement has unveiled another five new hotels in Dubai by 2017, including the debuts of the W and St Regis brands in the emirate. The company’s growth in 2012 will also include markets including Saudi Arabia where the company will debut the Sheraton Medina and Four Points by Sheraton Medina.
Both hotels combined will add nearly 500 rooms to the Holy City and increase Starwood’s portfolio to 12 hotels in the country. The St Regis brand will continue to expand in new destinations including Mauritius, Cairo, Jordan and finally Dubai.
Vos said: “What is key for us to understand is loyalty – and what a loyalty scheme like ours can bring to the table so that our guests are recognised as top travellers. Today two per cent of our top tier members on the SPG programme drive 30 per cent of our bottom line. These guests are more loyal, they stay longer, spend more and are the best customers in the industry, In order to continue and personalise our relationship with them, we have put in place some new initiatives like our Ambassador programme.”
“In the Ambassador programme we will allocate a private ambassador to each guest that stays with us for a certain period of time. This Ambassador will be responsible for every aspect the guest’s trip, from confirming flight schedules to dinner reservations or even communicating with the hotel team on the their personal choices and preferences,” he added.
The next level, says Vos, would be getting personal and letting the customer communicate to us what they want.
Vos adds that business has remained strong for Starwood across all their regional markets and trends are changing back to positivity. “We do have some challenging areas in the Middle East where I don’t expect to see a lot of hotel business in the near future but fortunately we also have some star performers like UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. And thanks to all the efforts that go into developing the destination and new properties, people continue to travel here.
So yes, business has been good!”