Interview | Richard Brekelmans, Area Manager Starwood Spain & General Manager W Barcelona

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April 2015 | Ultra-Luxury Travel Edition

W Hotels is a design-led, contemporary lifestyle brand and the industry innovator with 42 hotels and retreats, including 14 W-branded residences, in the most vibrant cities and exotic destinations around the world. W Hotels is a design-led, contemporary lifestyle brand and the industry innovator with 42 hotels and retreats, including 14 W-branded residences, in the most vibrant cities and exotic destinations around the world.

What does luxury means to today travelers?

Luxury is not synonymous to white glove service anymore. Nowadays, for our clients at Starwood and international travelers, the new luxury lies within the true personalization of their stay. Beginning with the personalized pre-communication before their arrival, the personalized welcome at the hotel as well as the individual assistance during their stay to make sure they live an unique and authentic experience that goes beyond the traditional luxury standars a 5 star hotel offers.

Each brand within the Starwood Group has its own way to translate this luxury and bring it to life within their brand positioning. W Hotels for example focus on delivering a lifestyle experience in an authentic setting and comes up with a new approach towards the traditional luxury in a less formal and more fun manner.   

Can you please explain the shift in guest expectations and demands that you are seeing

The strongly upcoming millennial generation (also known as Gen Y), 18 to 30 years old, with increasingly high disposable income, is expected to take over as the largest generational segment in the luxury consumer market in only 5 to 7 years. And although these wealthy consumers are hard to pick out of the crowd, wearing jeans and sneakers, they are redefining the luxury industry, including the luxury hotel space. These guest are not driven by money itself or status symbols, instead it’s all about the storytelling of a great experience. They devote a lot of money to travel and entertainment, and they are prepared to pay well for unique VIP experiences.


What are the biggest challenges that you’re facing today to improve the guest experience?

The biggest challenge will always be that you can’t stand still. What is good enough today is not good enough tomorrow.


Starwood has been an early adopter when it comes to new technology including rolling out a Google Glass app, room keys right on guests’ mobile phones, or the Apple Watch app. What’s the thought process and stance behind this early adopter mindset that you’ve taken on for SPG?

Technology spurs more travel as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, and it’s fundamentally changing the behavior and expectations of our guests. Today there are more phones than people on the planet. More guests interact with us via smartphones or tablets than from PCs. And as mobile technology gets smaller, cheaper and more ubiquitous, we need to keep pace with change, which is why we’re making a big bet on digital and personalization.  


What role does staff play in improving the guest experience?

Firstly, besides that obviously people play a decisive role in the service industry in general, as mentioned the luxury industry is changing rapidly with the rising of a new generation of customers, and with that the role of hotel employees.  That is why it is vital that our teams recognize these changes and embrace new skills and ways to work in order to efficiently cater to these changing expectations and deliver a guest what he/she wants and when he/she wants it.  At W Hotels Worldwide we call this our “Whatever/Whenever” service philosophy.


In knowing your customers and delivering what they’re expecting in terms of, “You should know me,” are there any concerns of balancing privacy and knowing too much?

Obviously, maintaining our client’s privacy is one of our top priorities. Despite the fact that there are high expectations when it comes to the knowledge about our clients, we only use the information that our clients actively want to share with us. At Starwood we use several internal programs that help us to save and provide all useful information about our client’s preferences during their last stays to make sure we cover all their needs and expectations and personalize their experience as much as possible.


What’s one unexpected shift that you’ve seen in guest expectations or demands?

Today’s’ guests experiences and standards are very rich and naturally their expectations have been growing over the past couple of years, the same as the standard of society has evolved why I don’t see any unexpected shift in guests expectations. Everything is possible nowadays and keeping in mind our “Whatever/Whenever” service culture, that’s exactly what we offer our clients.

Are you using social media to communicate with guests?

We offer several ways for our clients to communicate with us. Next to the traditional ones, such as email and telephone, we have a live chat that offers 24/7 assistance to our clients. Obviously, keeping in mind the high impact and importance of our social media channels as well as the high amount of clients and followers we reach through them, more and more clients connect with us directly on social media. Currently, at W Barcelona, we have one person fully dedicated to social media. I’m convinced that social media is a strong tool to position your brand but also to maintain an active conversation with your clients whose importance will only become bigger over the next couple of years.  


What about the demographic of your primary customer? Who is your primary customer today and has that changed over the past couple of years?

W Barcelona appeals to the young-minded consumer. We do not target demographics, rather mind-sets. W Hotels is a dynamic and energetic brand that targets trend-setters, hence the design and programming is developing constantly around our target customers, opposed to targeting a different customer when your product gets past its expiry date.

 

Richard Brekelmans
Area Manager Starwood Spain & General Manager W Barcelona