Tag Archives: Starwood

Marriott-Starwood Merger: Loyalty Program Impact

The Marriott and Starwood merger is finally complete, with the deal clearing all regulatory hurdles. With any uncertainty put to rest, it is time to consider the host of new implications for loyalty members for what will become the most valuable hotel loyalty program in the world.

Nearly a year after announcing plans to acquire Starwood Hotel & Resorts, Marriott International is now officially the world’s largest hotel company, a merger that expands the brand’s portfolio as well as the benefits that loyalty members can now reap. Yes, so far the news appears to be good and you may already have received proactive news on this if you have points with either Marriott Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest. Most significantly, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson announced in a letter to members of both loyalty programs that a joint loyalty program won’t be ready till 2018.

To appease nervous guests who had racked up a healthy number of points with either, Marriott announced that members will have their status matched across both programs, giving them access to brands and destinations previously unavailable.

For instance, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) members will now be able to reap benefits at luxury brands like the Ritz-Carlton and Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, while Marriott Rewards members can now accrue points for stays at the Sheraton, Aloft, St. Regis and W Hotels.

Likewise, Marriott Rewards members now have access to new destinations like the Maldives, Santorini, Greece and Bora Bora, while SPG members have access to Aruba, Serchio Valley in Tuscany and Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Overall, that translates to 30 hotel brands, 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million rooms in over 110 countries, says Marriott International.

Guests who book directly through the Marriott mobile or SPG app will also receive free in-room wifi. We’re not sure free wifi in this day and age is that impressive though.

Westin-run-concierge

Westin Introduces Multiple Sport Concierges

Frequent travelling can take a toll on your health but not under Westin’s watch – the Westin hotel chain has introduced a number of concierge programs that will encourage you to get moving throughout your stay at selected properties worldwide. Do take note of that ‘selected’ part as the very popular Run Concierge is not available everywhere.

Following the success of Westin’s Run Concierge since its debut three years ago, the hotel has also expanded the program to include other popular sports. The debut of the Tennis Concierge at Westin’s Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa in Victoria, British Columbia, coincides with the 2016 US Open on August 29, and will see qualified tennis coaches help guests with everything from their backhand, footwork and even footwear. The property will also roll out a dedicated Hike Concierge, which helps guests choose and guide them through their trail depending on skill level. Meanwhile, The Westin at Los Angeles Airport will offer a Surf Concierge that will ferry guests to the city’s famous beaches during summer for surf lessons.

Westin’s parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts has taken things a step further by partnering with FitBit this year to create a series of app-based video fitness programs that will be aired at 200 hotels within the chain, making it a cinch to get back into shape no matter where you go.

 

Voice Activation

Aloft Hotels Introduces Voice Activation Control

Voice activation is no longer limited to your phone or tablet. One tech-focused hotel brand called Aloft is introducing the technology to hotel rooms, which means you can dim the lights with a little help from Siri. Much like how the voice-enabled technology allows you to utilise your phones almost hands-free, it will control almost every system within the room.

Should the room get too hot in the middle of the night, guests can lower the temperature with a quick command such as “Hey Siri, cool the room.” Apart from controlling the settings in the room, guests can also rely on Siri for suggestions on nearby attractions. The specially developed app will be included with each in-room iPad.

The iPads come with a step-by-step tutorial that brings guests through the voice activation process. At the end of the stay Aloft, which is one of the many hotel brands under Starwood, will reset the iPads and personal preferences will be removed. This is hardly the first innovation that has been introduced by the hotel. Over at Aloft Cupertino and Aloft Silicon Valley, the hotels introduced the world’s first robotic butler named Boltr.

To keep up with the latest technological innovations, international hotel brands such as the Hilton have also placed a child-sized robot concierge to greet guests at the front desk. Japan, however, paves the way for technologically enhanced hotel services with its own first fully automated, robot-staffed hotel called Henn-na Hotel.

Starwood Opens Cuba Four Points by Sheraton

When the US and Cuba were allies, the island state was awash in US expatriates and hotel chains; now that the legacy of the Cold War is finally winding down here, we bear witness to the return of the big hoteliers, starting with Starwood’s Cuba Four Points by Sheraton. With the restoration of diplomatic ties just last year, Starwood’s taking over management of a luxury hotel in central Havana is a step towards cementing the normalization of relations. As we reported in our story about choice destinations this year, now is perhaps the most interesting time to visit.

Previously owned by the Cuban military, the establishment known as Quinta Avenida hotel has been newly christened Cuba Four Points by Sheraton. This makes Starwood the first US chain set up shop in Cuba in 55 years, and is now one of 1300 properties under Starwood, one of the world’s leading hospitality companies. Starwood also counts the Meridien, W, Westin and Sheraton hotel chains under its management.

For interested parties planning a foray into Cuba, the hotel is located in Havana’s Miramar district, with rooms available from $246 each night. This is, however, not the sole Cuban venture from Starwood. The company has its eyes set on another iconic Cuban hotel, the Inglaterra, and will assume management of the 83-room property soon.

“This is just one deal, but what we want to keep seeing is a steady increase in these kinds of investments – certainly in the tourist infrastructure for Cuba,” noted Mark Toner, spokesperson for the US State Department. As we keep saying, it is time for a visit to the Caribbean island.

Four Points by Sheraton Havana –  Avenida 5ta A 76 – 80 Havana Cuba

St. Regis Abu Dhabi Opens Brunch in Top Suite

The luxurious $40,480 a night suite at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi hangs suspended in the middle of the 48th and 49th floors of the two towers making up the whole hotel. It is precisely this position that warrants its exclusivity and that somewhat exorbitant price, other than the money spent in tailoring up the interior design and amenities to their finest quality of course. This very note makes it the kind of thing only accessible to the 1% of the 1%… at least, until now.

For a limited period of time, St. Regis will open the suite for a series of brunch events aptly named ‘Brunch in the Clouds’. For a comparatively lesser cost of $110 (or US$180 with bubbly), you can gain access for a brief moment to the highly vaunted interior of the suite.

Abu-Dhabi-Brunch-02

The interior of the Abu Dhabi suite is 1,120 square metres, with various aspects like a cinema, a spa, and two-storey majlis (Arabic salons or lounges). The décor has cascading crystal and 24-carat gold leaf accents. From the windows you can view a panoramic view of the Arabian Gulf, the Corniche, and the city skyline. While watching that view and enjoying the atmosphere, you’ll be able to taste the different courses served in different rooms, like the oyster room, cheese and dessert space, caviar ice-bar, candy room, and private bar for champagne-spiked brunch cocktails. The private spa will be accessible for shoulder massages, or a manicure.

Abu-Dhabi-Brunch-04

The first brunch will be held on April 29, but monthly events will follow on the final Friday of each month (except for June, due to Ramadan). For those who want a tingle of what it’s like to cross the threshold, this makes the perfect opportunity.

Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York

China Firm in All-Cash Deal for Starwood Hotels

When news of Marriot International’s planned acquisition of rival Starwood hotel group broke, it sparked off a ménage-a-trois, with Chinese insurance giant Anbang attempting to crash the party. We haven’t reported on this because the dust had not settled but now, with Anbang Insurance Group making an all-cash $14 billion bid for Starwood, matters look to be settled; Marriot’s last bid was $13.6 billion, part stock, part cash. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Anbang offer beats anything Marriot has on the table, despite widespread reports that the Starwood management prefer Marriot as a suitor.

The Marriot-Starwood deal would have created the world’s largest hotel group but instead, it seems like the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York (that’s right, Anbang owns this icon) is about to take ownership of the Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis and W Hotel brands, along with the Luxury Collection hotels. UPI reports that the Anbang-Starwood deal would face both US regulatory hurdles (so would the Marriot deal to be fair) and a Chinese law forbidding local insurance firms from investing more than 15% of assets outside the country.

Starwood shareholders convene April 8 to make their decision; if rejected, Marriot has a pretty sweet kill fee of $400 million just to walk away.

Design Focus: House on Sathorn, Bangkok

In July last year, following a three-year restoration and a soft opening that saw the hosting of some of Bangkok’s swankiest parties, The House On Sathorn was officially launched. A familiar landmark that has had at least a couple of significant resurrections in the past, The House On Sathorn is at the same time lauded as a successful renovation for adaptive reuse.

W Bangkok general manager Tina Liu describes the project as a “sensory-rich, multi-venue complex, offering artisanal, Asian-inspired cuisine, creative cocktails, and spectacular restored artwork”. 

The pig's heads that adorn the capitals of the pillars, a reference to the original owner's Chinese Zodiac sign.

The pig’s heads that adorn the capitals of the pillars, a reference to the original owner’s Chinese Zodiac sign.

W Hotel commissioned AvroKO to undertake the full renovation, in consultation with a government body as required for any gazetted historical property, Liu explains. The international firm’s ‘design through storytelling’ approach was applied well to project in an instance of a perfect match. On the one hand is a heritage building that was completed around the late 1880s and, after over 15 years of abandonment, was identified for a revival. On the other is an award-winning architecture and interior design practice, based in New York City but with an office in Bangkok, and renowned for hospitality-centred projects.

AvroKO encompasses the design and branding outfit Brand Bureau, custom furniture and lighting designer Goodshop, and hospitality services provider Avroko Hospitality Group. Its knowledge and expertise in the areas of design, especially for hospitality and F&B, is top-notch. Add to this equation the client comprising proprietors of upmarket hotel W Bangkok and you get an exciting prospect for beautiful design.

The cosy restaurant with custom furniture, pendant lights and contemporary artwork.

The cosy restaurant with custom furniture, pendant lights and contemporary artwork.

The House On Sathorn was originally the residence of wealthy Chinese immigrant Chai Sua Yom, owner of an engineering company that was responsible for digging the Sathorn canal for public transportation. For his work, he was bestowed the title Luang Sathorn Racha Yutka by King Chulalongkorn. Although the canal had not been used according to intended purpose for decades, the name Sathorn has come to identify the stretch through which it ran.

Consisting of four separate buildings that enclose a courtyard, and surrounded by a garden in a spacious compound, the colonial mansion boasts the original three-storey structure with a hexagonal portico at the centre of the façade. It was originally painted two shades of yellow, which the recent restoration brought back. On the left side of the portico is another box-like projection that terminates with the attic windows.

Private banquets and events are catered in an especially designated space. Boasting access to the central courtyard, the hall has modern facilities installed.

Private banquets and events are catered in an especially designated space. Boasting access to the central courtyard, the hall has modern facilities installed.

The façade is decorated with a series of cornices relieved by graceful half-arch mouldings that crown each window on the ground floor. These large, tall and shuttered windows reinforce an upward sweep that gives the building an illusion of height while providing sufficient light and ventilation to the interiors. Pig’s heads, an unlikely motif for a stately home, decorate the pillars in reference to the owner’s Chinese zodiac symbol. On top of the building is a gracefully sloped hipped roof.

In the 1920s, with the owner’s fortune in decline, the property changed hands and was converted into the upmarket Hotel Royal. From 1948 to 1999, it was leased out and became the Embassy of the Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation. Its latest reinvention is that of a hub of upmarket F&B establishments owned and operated by W Bangkok, its immediate neighbour in the same compound. The extensive renovation of the structure was done in consultation with the Thai government’s Department of Fine Arts. This ensured the faithful restoration of the building to its original, and approval of changes and additions.

The central courtyard that serves as a alfresco bar and lounge with views of the four sections of the building.

The central courtyard that serves as a alfresco bar and lounge with views of the four sections of the building.

“The renovation also called for meticulous upgrading work,” Liu shares. “This encompassed everything from matching new tiles with the original to replacing missing hardware on doors and windows— some of which were no longer available.” Parts of the old building were extensively repaired, and with the plan to covert the entire building into bars and restaurants, a complex retrofit programme was implemented. Utilities, from HVAC to power and water supplies, were installed; rooms were refurnished and refinished according to their new functions. Meanwhile, the intricate wooden staircases and the frescoes commissioned by the owner, both of which are original to the house, have all been meticulously restored.

The result is a building with four distinct areas that have been identified as The Dining Room, The Bar, The Courtyard, and The Conservatory, which includes The Loft that houses an event space as well as four hospitality suites. This became the platform for AvroKO to tell The House On Sathorn’s new story.Sathorn-revival-form-facade

Surrounded by period architectural ornaments, the designers assembled a collection of contemporary artworks—paintings, installations, and sculpture, modern light fixtures, as well as custom and original pieces of furniture. Colours were reimagined for each room with paint, wallpaper and carpets until the layers what is old and new are meshed completely
and indistinguishably.

Story Credits

Text by Marc Almagro

Images by W Bangkok

This story first appeared in Form Magazine.

Largest St. Regis Hotel Opens in Macau

Bigger is definitely better for The St. Regis as the grand old New York name gives Macau a run for its money. Starwood-owned luxury brand The St. Regis has opened the doors to the largest property in their portfolio in Macau, a glitzy 400-room hotel located on the Cotai Strip. The St. Regis Macao, Cotai Central (the official name and spelling) marks the brand’s seventh hotel in Greater China and brings the chain to the world’s largest gambling center – Macau rakes in several times more revenue than its North American counterpart, Las Vegas.

The hotel also debuted Macau’s first 24-hour personal butler service available for all guests, tasked with customizing individual needs, tastes and preferences.

Guestrooms and suites range from 53 to 477 square meters and include a ‘multi-experience dining venue’ that offers contemporary, high-end cuisine, as well as bistro-style dining.

Best known for introducing Americans to the Bloody Mary cocktail at their flagship New York location in the early 1900s, the Macau location will also house the St. Regis bar but give their signature cocktail a distinctly local twist. The Maria do Leste (Mary of the East) will honor the area’s Portuguese heritage with pink peppercorns, cinnamon and piri-piri spices.

Guests will also have access to the Iridium Spa with panoramic views of the Strip from the 38th floor, and an outdoor pool with 2,460 square meters of deck space and private cabanas.

The opening of The St. Regis in Macau follows on the heels of Studio City, a $3.2 billion casino and entertainment resort that opened to much fanfare in October with the help of celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro.

Designed to offer a comprehensive guest experience that stretches beyond just gambling, the sprawling hotel complex includes family-friendly attractions like a Batman-themed flight simulator and a figure-8 Ferris wheel, alongside restaurants, bars, and luxury retailers.

The move follows the business model adopted by Las Vegas, which has transformed itself into an entertainment and fine dining hub for visitors interested in more than just gambling.

Declining casino revenues following Beijing’s anti-corruption crackdown and a slowing Chinese economy are also driving hoteliers to rethink their developments and have been blamed for delaying the opening of another highly anticipated resort, the Wynn Palace Cotai. Originally scheduled to open in March, the $4.1 billion hotel is now set to open in June.

Marriott-Starwood union creates world’s largest hotel group

The world of hospitality got a little cozier November 16 when US-based Marriott International announced it will acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. This US$12.2 billion wedding will create the world’s largest hotel company. Many readers will wonder what will happen to their Marriott Rewards and/or Starwood Preferred Guest status, which is exactly why we picked up this story from the wire. More on that later…

The agreed merger unites Marriott brands, which include Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and JW Marriott, and Starwood names such as Westin, W and Sheraton into a giant that operates 5,500 hotels spanning some 100 countries.

The acquisition will further Marriott’s goal of boosting its presence in key emerging markets China and India, where Starwood is well-represented, as well as in Europe, executives said.

“The driving force behind this transaction is growth,” said Marriott chief executive Arne Sorenson.

“To be successful in today’s marketplace, a wide distribution of brands and hotels across price points is critical,” said Adam Aron, acting chief executive at Starwood. Both companies are also big players in North America.

The two companies had combined revenues of nearly US$19 billion in 2014 and currently have about 1.1 million rooms worldwide. The combined company will dwarf number-two global hotelier Hilton, which has 4,500 hotels and 735,000 rooms.

Loyalty programs in focus

Wouter Geerts, travel analyst at Euromonitor International, said the union between two such large companies differs from other recent hotel mergers, which have seen big companies like Marriott buy regional players such as Delta Hotels and Resorts, a Canadian company.

A key question is the future of the two companies’ customer loyalty programs, Geerts said.

“As brand loyalty remains important in the hotel industry, it can be expected that individual brands will change little in their offering and price level,” Geerts said.

“The major impact of this acquisition for travelers will therefore be around the loyalty schemes of both companies. It has to be seen whether Starwood Preferred Guests will be swallowed up by Marriott Rewards/Hyatt Gold Passport.”

Starwood’s future has been a subject of speculation since Frits van Paasschen unexpectedly resigned as chief executive in February following a disagreement with board members over strategy.

Starwood in April announced it had hired investment bank Lazard to consider strategic options, including a possible sale of the company. Companies earlier discussed as possible buyers included InterContinental Hotels, the Chinese company Jin Jiang International and Hyatt Hotels.

Marriott said the deal would allow it to notch US$200 million in annual cost savings annual in the second full year after closing. Starwood is expected to continue a program to sell company-owned hotels to franchisees, raising US$1.5-$2.0 billion over the next two years.

Analysts said that Marriott could opt to divest itself of Starwood’s underperforming Sheraton chain, but may also choose to invest in turning it around.

Starwood shareholders will receive 0.92 shares of Marriott International, Class A common stock and US$2.00 in cash for each share of Starwood common stock, a joint statement from the companies read.

Starwood shareholders will separately receive about US$7.80 per share from a transaction set to close prior to the Marriott-Starwood merger closing — the spin-off of the Starwood timeshare business and its merger with Interval Leisure Group, which has an estimated value of approximately US$1.3 billion.

Marriott chief executive Sorenson will lead the combined company, which will be based at Marriott headquarters in Bethesda in the US state of Maryland. The transaction is expected to close in mid-2016.

In midday trade, shares of Starwood were down six percent at US$70.49, while Marriott was off 0.4 percent at US$72.43.

st regis dubai

Starwood aims for 50 new Middle East hotels by 2019

st regis dubai

 is planning new luxury and mid-tier properties across the region from Dubai to Doha and even Iraq.

DON’T MISS: STARWOOD OFFERS POINTS FOR UBER RIDES

The company announced its ambitious expansion plans at the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference in Dubai on Wednesday along with a list of new hotels for the region scheduled to open their doors to the public before the end of 2016.

As well as 3 new hotels coming to Dubai’s Al Habtoor City development, they include Qatar’s first Westin hotel — The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa; the launch of its Luxury Collection brand in Lebanon; and the opening of the Sheraton Dohuk, the company’s first hotel in Iraq for 20 years.

Royal Palm South Beach Miami,

Starwood Hotels introduces ‘Tribute Portfolio’

Royal Palm South Beach Miami

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has introduced Tribute Portfolio, the company’s 10th brand and second collection of independent hotels.

Tribute Portfolio will allow premium independent hotels to benefit from the prestige of the Starwood brand and give Starwood Hotel clients the ability to continue enjoying Starwood services and earn Starwood loyalty points in the world’s most popular destinations.

DON’T MISS: STARWOOD OFFERS POINTS FOR UBER RIDES

The first hotel to join the Starwood Tribute Portfolio is The Royal Palm South Beach Miami, a four-star hotel with 393 rooms and suites located on Collins Avenue, Miami’s “Millionaires Row”.

Hotels in Asheville, NC, Nashville, TN, Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC will join the brand in the next 12-24 months, followed by an expansion to Europe. The company aims to build up its portfolio to 100 four-star and upper-luxury hotels by the end of the decade.

Suiran Kyoto

Starwood opens first Luxury Collection hotel in Japan

Suiran Kyoto

The Suiran in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district opens this week and will combine the hotel chain’s existing luxury concierge service with traditional Japanese hospitality.

Presidential Suite Suiran

Overlooking the Arashiyama hills, and situated within the grounds of Tenryuji temple, a World Heritage site, the hotel offers 39 guest rooms ranging in size from 500-1000 square feet (46-93 sq meters).

Kyo Suiran

The hotel also features a traditional Japanese open-air bath and a number of Japanese well-being treatments, while the menu at the hotel’s restaurant, Kyo Suiran (pictured above), is focused on local flavors and traditional cuisine but with a modern twist.

Suiran Hotel

“With an esteemed past as well as a Japanese-style experience defined by renowned Japanese hospitality and cuisine, Suiran will resonate with sophisticated and affluent guests seeking a different, more refined side of travel,” said Hiroshi Komoto, General Manager.

Starwood Uber

Starwood offers points for Uber rides

Starwood Uber

Starwood Hotels has teamed up with Uber in a partnership that will allow loyalty members to earn Starpoints for every Uber ride around the world.

The multinational hotel chain includes brands like the St. Regis, W Hotels, Sheraton, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton and Le Méridien.

To enroll, SPG members need to link to an Uber account and register a qualifying stay at any Starwood hotel.

Users earn one Starpoint for every dollar spent on Uber rides. Bonus points are earned when rides are taken during a hotel stay.

To kick off the program on February 28, loyalty members can earn 15,000 Starpoints — enough for a free night’s stay — when they book a ride using the “SPG” option, and take part in promotional events that include a 10-minute meditation session for guests of the Westin hotels and a luxurious ride that includes fresh flowers, jazz and a book on the signature Bloody Mary for guests of the St. Regis.

The promotional event will take place in Dubai, London, Mexico City, New York and San Francisco.

DON’T MISS: TOP 10 HOTEL LOYALTY PROGRAMS

W Beijing

W Hotel Opens in Beijing, China

W Beijing

Beijing has opened the doors to a new , a modern, glitzy property that aims to be the hotel of choice for the fashion, music and entertainment industry who descend on the bustling capital.

Located on Chang’an Avenue, a major thoroughfare that’s also home to major landmarks and monuments like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Silk Market and the Beijing Concert Hall, the W Beijing towers over a place that straddles tradition, history and the 21st century.

DON’T MISS: W HOTELS TO DOUBLE ASIAN PORTFOLIO

W Beijing lobby

All 349 guestrooms and suites feature digital tablets that can control room lighting and mood, a home theater system with Bose portable speakers and amenities from Bliss.

DON’T MISS: CHINA PLANS $1.3BN ‘SEVEN-STAR HOTEL’

W Beijing room

The W Beijing is the second of several W Hotels planned for China over the next five years in cities like Changsha, Chengdu, Shanghai, Suzhou, Sanya, and Shenyang.

W Hotels opened its first China location in the city of Guangzhou.

w beijing Spectacular Room King Bed

W Beijing – Chang’an is offering special rates to celebrate its opening from November 1, 2014 to April 30, 2015.

More information available at www.whotels.com/beijing

Aloft hotel robot Butler

Ready for the hotel industry’s first robotic butler?

Aloft hotel robot Butler

Aloft Hotels, part of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group, will on August 20 be introducing its latest hire, A.L.O., a roving cyber ‘Botlr’ that acknowledges requests with a few peppy beeps and flashing lights.

Its main role will be to deliver amenities to guest rooms in the aim of freeing up the hotel staff — the human variety — to carry out other tasks.

But it’s also a marketing strategy aimed at appealing to the brand’s main target demographic — tech-savvy millennial travelers — who are invited to ‘tip’ the robot bellhop with tweets that compliment its service.

“As soon as A.L.O. entered the room, we knew it was what we were looking for,” said global brand leader Brian McGuinness in a cheeky statement.

“A.L.O. has the work ethic of Wall-E, the humor of Rosie from The Jetsons and reminds me of my favorite childhood robot, R2-D2.”

Despite being a robot, it may be hard to resist the urge to give it a friendly pet with its chirpy beeps, little black bow tie and requests for approbation!

SPG for glass

Use Google Glass App to Book Starwood Hotel Rooms

SPG for glass

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has unveiled new details on its SPG app for Google Glass, which will allow loyalty members to search for hotels using voice commands, book their room and get real-time, GPS-enabled directions.

When the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) app emerges from beta, it will allow users to perform the same functions as laptops and smartphones.

In addition to searching among 1,100 hotels around the world, users can look up nearby attractions and amenities using simple voice commands.

Potential guests can also take a virtual tour of the hotel rooms and suites, call the hotel, look up their account information, review their reservations and check their Starpoints. Finalizing bookings requires a simple tap. Geolocating software will also provide real-time directions.

Earlier this year, the Starwood group announced plans to turn smartphones into ‘keyless keys,’ allowing Starwood Preferred Guests to open their rooms by simply scanning their phones to the door.

Elsewhere in the travel industry, Virgin Atlantic became the world’s first airline to use the wearable technology earlier this year, when it armed ground staff with Google Glass to check in passengers.

Virgin Atlantic Google Glass

shark fin soup

Starwood Hotels bans shark fin soup

shark fin soup

Starwood Hotels & Resorts is the latest international hotel chain to ban the controversial shark fin soup across its entire portfolio of brands including Sheraton, Le Meridien, St. Regis and W Hotels.

Shark fin soup is viewed by many Asians as a rare delicacy and is traditionally served at wedding parties and business banquets in Asia.

The company started taking shark fin off menus in 2012 and has cut use by 79% within the past two years, Starwood said.

The ban will also extend to other threatened animal species such as whale and sea turtle which will also be stricken from the menus of their 1,200 hotels and 1,300 restaurants around the world.

In 2012, the Shangri-La also announced plans to stop serving shark fin across its list of properties worldwide.

The Hong Kong-based group said it would cease serving shark fin in all of its restaurants and phase out Bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass at all restaurants as part of their sustainable seafood policy.

When finning sharks, fishermen catch them, slice of their fins and throw the sharks back into the water, where they can no longer swim. The practice kills as many as 100 million sharks a year,

W Hotel Amsterdam

Amsterdam to Get W Hotel in 2015

Amsterdam’s historic former Telephone Exchange building is set to get a makeover as the contemporary W Hotels chain prepares to move in to town.

W Hotel Amsterdam

W Amsterdam, set to open its doors in the city’s Dam Square in autumn 2015, will be the design-led Starwood Hotel brand’s first Dutch location.

The hotel will feature 169 stylish guestrooms, including 10 suites and one Extreme Wow Suite (the company’s take on the Presidential Suite).

Upon entering the building, guests will be taken directly to the hotel rooftop for check-in and a cocktail in the W Living Room. The building will also feature a rooftop bar and restaurant with city views.

The historic property represents the typical Amsterdam School architectural style. It will be re-imagined by Office Winhov architects in Amsterdam and Tel Aviv-based practice BK Architecture. The building’s historical elements will be fully restored and combined with a new, contemporary design.

The brand currently has a portfolio of 45 W Hotels worldwide, with more than 20 additional properties in the pipeline.

Starwood Keyless Key

Starwood Turns Smartphones Into Hotel Room Keys

Starwood Hotels is testing a new feature that would replace keys and membership cards with a smartphone app.

Starwood Keyless Key

The new feature, called a keyless key, would enable its Starwood Preferred Guest members to go straight to their rooms and open the door via their smartphone, rather than having to go through the process of checking in.

It will be trialed at the Aloft Harlem New York and Aloft Silicon Valley California hotels and builds on Starwood’s existing Smart Check In service.

Available at a number of Aloft hotels, it automates a number of processes for valued, time-poor customers but the features are built around a physical smart card that guests must obtain and carry with them.

With the Keyless Key all that a guest will need is an Android smartphone running version 4.3 or newer or an iPhone 4S or newer. The locking mechanism works via Bluetooth so as long as the app is running, the door will automatically unlock or lock.

If the trial is successful, Starwood plans to roll the feature out to all of its W and Aloft hotels, globally by the end of 2015.

The company’s competitors will be watching closely. With the exception of free or metered wi-fi, the hospitality industry has been very slow to unlock the potential benefits of mobile technology and apps.

But if Starwood’s trial is a success, then smart keys and a host of other “smart” features could soon become the norm across the industry.

Instagram

Instagram and Pinterest are changing the hotel industry

Hotel chains are increasingly leveraging the power of Instagram to reach a broader audience, with Starwood the latest to integrate the photo-sharing feature across its nine brands around the world.

Instagram

Using the hashtag #SPGLife, guests can now add photos of their Starwood experience at properties like the St. Regis, the Westin, Le Meridien, Sheraton and W to an Instagram guest gallery.

It’s estimated that Starwood guests staying at the chain’s 1,150 properties around the world capture and share an average of 40,000 images a month on Instagram.

Currently, photos on the guest gallery include beachfront photos of the W Maldives as well as food porn of a traditional English breakfast at the St. Regis Singapore.

W Hotel Maldives

Perhaps one of the biggest Instagram pioneers of the hotel industry, however, remains the 1888 Hotel in Sydney, Australia, a boutique property that billed itself as the world’s first Instagram hotel for hinging its decor and services on the photo-sharing app when it opened this year.

In a bid to attract and serve a digitally savvy clientele, the hotel offers a free night’s stay to Instagram users with more than 10,000 followers — in other words, lots of clout — and has likewise dedicated a “selfie space” where guests can take photos of themselves, hashtag it #1888hotel and see their photo appear instantaneously on screens near the reception desk.

1888 hotel

Similarly, the Four Seasons claimed authority on the photo sharing site Pinterest, with the Pin. Pack. Go feature. After a traveler creates boards pinned with photos of their ideal vacation and specifying their destination city, a virtual concierge from the Four Seasons will offer personalized recommendations and itineraries based on the user’s Pinterest board.

Meanwhile, both Condé Nast Traveler and luxury travel company Cox & Kings predict that geolocating mediums like Facebook and Instagram will play increasingly bigger roles in the travel industry in 2014, either as an advertising platform for hotels or as a “Wish you were here” postcard by guests.