The strategy behind the design of the world’s “contemporary lifestyle” hotel
by Dante’ A. Clemons
A few months ago, as I settled into the second tier of first semester classes at the Pratt Design Management Program, I read the syllabus for DM654 Strategic Technology (ST). Taught by professor Monte Gibbs, the class “aims to give students a thorough understanding of the impact of technology on business strategy, how technology evolves and affects markets and competition.” Our first assignment? To present an example of a successful Strategic Technology. In the sea of tech gadgets and first-to-market industrial products, I stood up to present to the class my dissertation on the W-Hotel, Starwood’s chain of boutique hotels. My spine stiffened as I spoke, “I think the W-Hotel is a strategic technology because…” By the end of my pitch, the professor deemed my submission successful, although many of my classmates were bewildered. Yet, in my mind, it all made sense. Utilizing a few of the 22 ST Criteria, a method for analyzing a strategic technology, I’ll share with you why.
Social Relationships Since its inception in 1998, the W hotel has forged partnerships with multiple companies from various disciplines. The genius of this strategy is rooted in the basis of brand recognition. If you are building a brand, partner with brands from related industries that possess similar values. This way, both brands benefit from sharing the same customer base. Additionally, having a selection of products that meet their stylish tastes pleases W-Hotel customers. A few of the W-Hotels key partnerships include:
- Puma, sneaker company. Puma’s Urban Mobility bikes are accessible to W-Hotel guests through the hotels Whatever/Whenever service.
- Jonathan Adler, interior designer. Adler’s works are displayed throughout W-Hotel rooms worldwide.
- Sony Music Entertainment is the W-Hotel’s music partner. The W released a CD, The Sound of Wanderlust: W Hotels Worldwide Tour featuring artists on the Sony Music label. The CD is placed in hotel rooms.
- Michael Kors, fashion designer, is the creator of the uniforms of the W-Hotel’s “talent”, or employees.
- American Express, credit card, one free night at the W-Hotel when you book two using your AmEx card.
- Acura, car company, W-Hotel guests can enjoy a ride through the city in an MDX as part of Whatever/Whenever service
Barriers to Entry. The secret to the W-Hotel’s success is that it operates like an independent boutique hotel, yet it has the resources and expertise of the hotel giant Starwood, its parent company. Independent boutique hotels cannot successfully duplicate what the W brand has achieved in ten years without the industry knowledge and wisdom that is obtained by a large, global, established hotel company, and the financial support offered as a result. However, there are other hotels that succeed in appealing to the savvy traveler who values design as much as comfort. Recently, the Hyatt has launched Andaz, its boutique spin-off brand. If the W-Hotel can maintain partnerships with key brands and boost its innovation factor, it can stave off the competition.
Relationship to users The W-Hotel has been acknowledged as an outstanding gathering space for its customers, far beyond the baseline function of a hotel. The W-Hotel is the happening spot for nightlife, fine dining and is a complete luxury lifestyle brand. The W is a popular destination for chic events, weddings and parties. Personally, the hotel’s wow factor for me is through the roof. I held a birthday party at the W-New Orleans and fully utilized the Whatever/Whenever services. My guests were treated warmly and were “wowed” by the experience as well. I have formed a dependency for the brand now, as the W experience is unrivaled in other domestic brand hotels.
Design Acceptance Design is the root of each W-Hotel guest experience. The W brand establishes a global design vision standard that consumers can begin to identify; yet each hotel destination executes that vision according to the context of its location. It’s a supreme way to get guests addicted to the evolving W-Hotel experience, each one unique from the one before it.
Innovation Ability The W brand is understood to be reflective of pop culture and the trends that emanate from it. Within this context, it is understood that décor and music will change, but the service and genuine atmosphere of the brand and its extensions will not. The brand is sustainable when it acknowledges that to appeal to the savvy crowd, it has to know what is savvy, and change accordingly. Innovation will be this brand’s best friend. W-Hotels has implemented a series of hospitality industry firsts in the past 10 years, including:
- the transformation of the hotel lobby into the W Living Room experience
- the introduction of the Whatever/Whenever concierge service
- extension of the lifestyle experience into retail through the W Hotels Store
- the reinvention of the presidential suite into the “Extreme Wow” and “Wow” suites.
As a young, twenty-something architect with a love for stylish spaces and trendy nightspots, I was an immediate fan of the W-Hotel. The more experiences I had with the brand, the more the strategic design behind it all became apparent. Using the 22 S.T. criteria, I began to quantitatively see why the W-Hotel has been successful. I could only hope that my professor would agree.