The evolution of W Hotels Worldwide
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2017)
The W Hotel Barcelona is one of the most striking sights on the coast of Barcelona. Its iconic sail form and the breathtaking view of the sea is unique and saw the hotel set new standards from the beginning. Now all rooms and suites have been redesigned and the first W Sound Suite in Europe has been opened. A dedicated music studio, one of four in the world today, which is taking bookings from professional artists, studio musicians and producers as well as hotel guests. The leading idea of the W Sound Suite comes from DJ White Shadow, who works closely with the W Hotels. The Chicago-based producer is mainly known for his work with Lady Gaga.
With new concepts such as the latest W Sound Suite, W Hotels has been revolutionising the hotel scene for 20 years and has since established itself as a leading lifestyle brand. Openings in exciting destinations around the world are set to lead to no less than 75 hotels by 2020. During their expansion, the hotels are constantly reinventing themselves and offer surprises with lifestyle trends. Anthony Ingham, Global Brand Leader of W Hotels Worldwide, tells us how the brand wants to change the traditional concept of luxury and evoke exceptional expectations from its guests.
Anthony, what makes the W Hotel brand so unique?
W focuses on our guest’s experience in a way that flips traditional luxury on its head. Upon entering any of our 52 W Hotels around the world, guests are greeted by a showstopping design that is authentically local with a W twist. Our Whatever/Whenever service mentality permeates every guest interaction, and each hotel has a W Insider to connect the guest to what’s new and upcoming in the area. The brand shares its passion for fashion, music, design and FUEL, the W takes on healthy living with its jetsetting guests, and you will frequently find the location’s hottest musician playing in our Living Room or an up-and-coming fashion designer hosting a runway show on our WET-pool deck.
How would you describe the W brand within the Marriott group?
W is part of Marriott International’s luxury portfolio which includes brands such as The Luxury Collection, Ritz Carlton, St. Regis and JW Marriott, among others. However, W is not confined by the traditional model of luxury. W boldly draws outside the lines of luxury, providing an unconventional, exciting and personalised experience for all guests. I guess you could say that W is the ‘lux rebel’ within the group!
W Hotels Worldwide was launched 1998 with the first W hotel in New York. Was it just a new hip design hotel at that time or was it already on its way to become a lifestyle brand?
From the first W Hotel in 1998, W flipped the traditional hotel model on its head. We turned the lights down and the music up, and the hotel itself became a place to see and be seen, rather than just to sleep. Over time, consumer demand pulled our price point firmly up into the luxury space, and as such the brand has continued to evolve. W Hotels today offer an experience that exceeds the expectations of savvy, younger luxury consumers – amazing customer service, stylish hotel amenities, thrilling bars and restaurants and so much more – without the stuffiness that more traditional luxury brands may be perceived to have.
How did the W establish its position as one of the leading lifestyle brands? Please tell us about the main milestones
W debuted in 1998 as one of the first lifestyle hotel brands in a staid marketplace. We were the first to turn the hotel lobby into a Living Room; the concierge into Whatever/Whenever; and a bedroom into a place of great design. Over the years, W has opened in major fashion, music and cultural capitals around the world, bringing with it a reinvented guest experience that our guests love. This year, W surpassed 52 hotels around the world, bringing the brand another step closer to reaching its goal of 75 hotels by 2020. We fully expect to continue to break down barriers and reinvent the industry along the way.
How does the W brand refer to the digital age? How do you respond to the digital transformation we are living in?
W is a brand that was founded on innovation. We’ve put a lot of effort into connecting technology with hospitality. This year, W launched the industry’s first video game to celebrate the opening of W Bellevue, which has opened in a tech-centric community just outside of Seattle, Washington. W Austin also piloted an in-room Alexa program which provides local recommendations for dining and entertainment with commands only available at the hotel. W was also one of the first brands in the world to offer keyless entry with your mobile device, a program that has since expanded to offer incredible convenience to our global guests. It’s an exciting time, and like our guests, we’re always looking forward to what’s next.
There are already fully automated hotels – can you imagine a W hotel being human free, without staff?
Would it be cool? Definitely – but also not W. Success in modern hospitality includes a mix of high-tech and high-touch approaches, depending on the location, the service and the guest, but part of what makes W such an incredible brand for our guests are our talent, who have a passion for service and sharing their knowledge of what’s new and cool in their destination. I appreciate the many conveniences that technology affords us in our everyday lives, especially as someone who spends so much of my time travelling and working on the road, but I can tell you I’ve never gotten my best travel advice from a screen.
But is “digital hospitality” a buzzword hotel companies should have in mind for the future?
Possibly, but I don’t see tech replacing the wealth of knowledge and service our talent provides anytime soon, nor as a substitute for the buzz of excitement you get as you walk into a crowded scene of fun-loving locals enjoying our music, cocktails and atmosphere.
Will the hotel business generally need to change in the future? What are the next big trends in hospitality?
We are living in a time of constant cultural and technological change so I’m sure some adjustments will need to happen in the future. As the world continues to embrace global communication, I expect travellers will spread their interests even further and look to experience a wider variety of destinations around the world. This celebration of local culture – be it through design, events, or even cocktails – is something that W has been doing for quite some time, and has no plans of stopping.
The iconic W Barcelona just re-designed the rooms and a new music studio, the “W Sound Suite”. Is music an essential part of the W lifestyle brand?
Music is a passion for W – we put an immense amount of time and consideration into the music that sets the tone for guests at each hotel around the world. From custom work-out playlists to curating performances from local talent, we are equally involved in what our guests hear as with what they see. We have Music Directors in each of our global markets – each are professionally immersed in the music industry and bring their own personal taste to their collaborative projects. For example, DJ White Shadow (best known for his work with Lady Gaga) is our North American Music Director, and has personally helped us design and outfit each of the four W Sound Suites around the world at W Bali – Seminyak, W Seattle, W Hollywood and W Barcelona.
Tell us about your target group? What kind of guests is W appealing to?
W appeals to many people of many ages – it’s more of a psychographic than a demographic. Our guests also share our love of fashion, music and design and really enjoy being early adopters when it comes to discovering new and upcoming talent.
What do you think the W brand will look like in 10 years?
It’s impossible to say, but we are super excited by the hotels we have just opened (such as W Bellevue near Seattle, Washington USA and W Shanghai in China) as well as those that we will soon be opening, bringing us to our goal of 75 hotels by 2020. Our new hotels and our renovations are the best embodiment of where the brand’s design is heading.
You have lived in a lot of countries – what was your favourite place?
At the moment, NYC is my absolute favourite. I’ve been here almost four years and I love the endless stimulation of being in the city that never sleeps. You just have to walk out of your front door in any direction and you’ll discover new things, new food, new fashion, new shows. I love it.
If you could choose any hotel to live in after you retired which one would that be?
That’s an impossible choice – I want them all! I guess if I was no longer working I would spend the winter in W Verbier to ski, a month in W Maldives to dive, some time in W Mexico City to explore and a couple of weeks in W NY Union Square to remember how great NYC is!
Anthony Ingham is Global Brand Leader for W Hotels Worldwide, the iconic design-led lifestyle brand and industry innovator. In this role, Ingham leverages his breadth of global experience to take a truly international approach to building the W brand. Ingham is responsible for making the W experience authentic, energetic and unforgettable at all of its hotels, including W-branded Residences as well as the new W Escapes portfolio, a bold and modern twist on leisure travel around the globe.
Picture credit © W Hotel Istanbul