Hoteliers who intended to fly a Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide-branded flag over a property during development, but have since opened under Marriott International, said the transition has been seamless.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Operators of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide-branded properties that opened just after the company’s acquisition by Marriott International have so far found the transition rather smooth.
“Honestly, it was pretty seamless,” said Brian Hutchins, regional director of operations at Wischermann Partners, which manages the recently opened Westin Nashville.
Wischermann Partners has operated both Marriott- and Starwood-branded properties, he said, so the company is familiar with how both operate. The Nashville Westin broke ground in December 2014, he said, and it opened 13 October after Marriott closed on its acquisition of Starwood.
“They did a great job in the transition,” Hutchins said. “Nothing changed, not even the people we worked with more until the end of the year. During the opening and transitions, there were very limited changes.”
Marriott had previously announced some of the leaders overseeing the brands at the corporate level, Hutchins said. He said he anticipates there will be some changes coming, but nothing has come down so far.
“Starwood has done a good job developing those brands and who they are,” Hutchins said. “Some changes may be made, but the main aspects of all those brands will remain constant.”
Wischermann Partners has a few other Starwood projects in development now, he said, that might see some of these changes implemented before opening.
Chris Anderson, SVP and chief revenue officer at White Lodging, said that since the Westin Milwaukee is still under development, the property’s main focus has been timely communication among associates and guests, particularly about the linking of the Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards loyalty programs. From an operations standpoint, he said, the company has continued with its normal approach of attention to guest experience, brand standards and “operational excellence.”
“White Lodging has long been an operational partner to both Marriott and Starwood brands, and (we) feel that because of those relationships, the transition has been very well managed,” he said. “Change always brings a few questions, but the teams of both organizations participating in the integration have been forthright and prompt in sharing the direction.”
The Westin brand will remain innovative and continue to provide distinctive guest experiences, Anderson said, and his company feels strongly the brand integrity will not waver as Marriott and Starwood further integrate. There have been no changes to the brand standards or promise, he said.
Waiting to learn more
The recently opened Aloft Miami Dadeland hasn’t seen many changes at the property level, GM Donna Candreva said, though she expects some to be implemented early this year. There have been rumors about what changes might come through, she said, but there hasn’t been any official notice yet.
“We have not been told to prepare or be ready for ‘XYZ’ change,” she said.
Candreva said she expects to learn soon who her property’s new regional contacts are. She’s also expecting to see some changes in field marketing, she said, since Marriott has its own.
“Other than that, we have not seen or received much information about any big changes other than we’ll be marketed as a Marriott and not a Starwood,” she said.
The computer systems haven’t merged yet, Hutchins said, so that helped keep the hotel opening smooth. There will be changes as the transition progresses, he said, but keeping with Starwood’s reservation system has been beneficial for the time being.
“They didn’t throw that at us in the midst of opening,” he said.
Similarly, the Aloft Miami Dadeland continues to use Starwood’s reservation system, Candreva said, and she’s not heard of any plans for merging the systems. Making that move would be a “huge undertaking,” she said, but she added that she can’t imagine Marriott maintaining separate systems.
Merged loyalty programs
The one major change to take place and have an impact at the property level is the integration of Marriott’s and Starwood’s loyalty programs.
The merging of the two loyalty programs happened much faster than expected, Hutchins said. It opened up his company’s Starwood property to a new segment of business from Marriott loyalty members who wouldn’t have considered the Westin Nashville otherwise.
“I think the crossover between the two was a welcome change to open to a new demographic of customer,” he said.
Guests are excited about how the merged rewards programs will open up more options for them, Candreva said.