Starwood takeover raises bookings for LeMeridien

Ziegler: Le Meridien is on a branding drive

LE Meridien is looking at relaunching the brand following its acquisition by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide last year, the benefits of which are already visible, according to a company official.

The integration of Le Meridien’s reservations, distribution, loyalty and sales functions have resulted in increased bookings and loyalty stays, says Eva Ziegler, senior vice president, Le Meridien brand for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.
The assimilation of Moments, the Le Meridien loyalty programme, into Starwood Preferred Guest has resulted in a 140 per cent increase in loyal stays between April to end of July 2006 over the same period last year, she says.
Call centre bookings, between April to June 2006, have increased more than 30 per cent. Similarly web bookings are up 30 per cent following structural and functional improvements to the Le Meridien website.
“This shows the power of Starwood and what it brings to Le Meridien brand in terms of operational excellence and efficiency, a very solid foundation for the brand. Le Meridien benefits from being part of Starwood, but the reverse is also true,” she says. Starwood has benefited from the addition of  over 100 Le Meridien hotels, which with its heavy international distribution, nearly doubles Starwood’s hotel footprint in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and increases its distribution by nearly 30 per cent in Asia Pacific.
Eva was in Dubai last month to attend a conference of top Starwood executives to discuss and drive forward the company’s new branding philosophy, strategies and service initiatives.
Commenting on the company’s business strategy, she says, “What Starwood is doing now is focusing on changing the industry from functional business, which is product-driven, to a brand-driven business, which is consumer centric, where you basically develop an emotional connection with your audience.”
Starwood is in the process of fine-tuning the positioning of all its brands, including Le Meridien, with the objective to develop into a world class brand. It has spent the last six months trying to understand its European heritage and is now looking at relaunching the brand. “We have identified the brand’s core values of chic, cultured, discovery, born out of our European heritage. The brand seeks to engage its guests in a meaningful way by bringing alive its passion points of music, film, art, photography, food, design, architecture and fashion. It will curate an experience for its guests, stimulating them and enriching their stay, revealing the curious in all of us,” says Eva.
Its marketing strategy focuses on increasing awareness and knowledge about the brand and it plans to organize events to bring alive the new positioning.
Another key element lies within the hotel: to ensure a Le Meridien guest experience, there will be a heavy focus on service culture training.

The company has aggressive growth plans for the Le Meridien brand, with a strong pipeline in place and a special emphasis on North America, which is a new market, and China, where it recently opened the luxury 325-room Le Meridien She Shan Shanghai. “Growth is the key element and we want to be in key places around the world. Besides these two countries we are also looking at Europe, where we are already well established, but we do have strong opportunity to add properties in key cities like Madrid, Berlin, Zurich, Prague and also Istanbul.”
The other big opportunity area is the spa market, she says. “This is a service that we need to offer and we are looking into implementing it. Currently we do not have a spa partner and we are still developing an overall concept service in line with our brand values,” she adds.

by Mridula Bhattacharya