In the five years since Starwood Hotels & Resorts added Le Meridien, the company has redefined the brand and strengthened its portfolio. With a total brand relaunch—from product consolidation to a new brand strategy—Starwood is seeking to build on Le Meridien’s momentum in North America as well as other parts of the world as it moves into a new era.
“It’s passed by tremendously quickly,” Eva Ziegler, global brand leader for Le Meridien and W Hotels at Starwood, said during a recent event at Le Meriden in Philadelphia, Pa. “Since Starwood has taken over the brand we’ve consolidated. Now we have the best portfolio the brand has ever had.”
At the same event, Starwood President & CEO Frits van Paasschen said that Le Meridien has shed properties in order to better define the Le Meridien experience. He said that the upper-upscale brand, which has its roots in France, has been a terrific fit for Starwood. “This has been a great financial success,” he said. “The hotels that we’ve opened have done very well.”
During the last five years, 45 hotels have left the system. As Simon Turner, president of global development at Starwood, said at the event, “Shrinking was something we had to do to grow.”
Le Meridien was started 38 years ago in France. While the brand has been popular in Europe and Africa, it isn’t as well known in North America. Although Le Meridien is represented by 105 properties in 50 countries, 85 percent of the portfolio is located in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific. However, recent openings by Starwood in places such as Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, have created flagships for the brand in the United States.
And while the brand is growing in many parts of the world, the United States is one of its targets, particularly in urban cultural centers. One of the reasons Starwood hosted developers and other guests at the Philadelphia property earlier this month was to show off the new direction of the brand. “This property really epitomizes what we want Le Meridien to be,” van Paasschen said.
For its part, the Philadelphia property is an adaptive reuse hotel built in a 100-year old building in Center City. The building was originally a YMCA and spent a few decades housing the offices of the Philadelphia District Attorney. However, all new Le Meridien properties aren’t meant to be adaptive reuse projects. Ziegler said the company sees conversions as a business opportunity. She also said that the company sees resorts as an opportunity and that part of the portfolio is already classified as resorts. Meanwhile, Starwood has defined the brand as something attractive to what it terms “the emerging creative class.”
“Le Meridien was a collection of many hotels,” van Paasschen said. “The brand positioning now is based on the emergence of the creative class.”
“The target guest is creative and not defined by age,” Ziegler added. “It’s more about the curious and open-minded. The people who want to be intellectually stimulated.”
True to that concept, the Le Meridien in Philadelphia seeks to establish somewhat of a European coffeehouse feel in its lobby. It’s designed as a place where guests can share stimulating conversation in an open atmosphere.
The brand is also redefining how it presents its roots. In the past, Le Meridien often feature French language on its materials and amenities. Today, it no longer takes its French roots literally.
“Coming from Paris, it took Paris literally,” Ziegler said. “Now we’re playing off the values of Parisian culture, such as the arts, but not taking it literally.
Ziegler also said that the brand is being positioned at a benchmark below Starwood’s Westin brand from a cost perspective.
So while Starwood continues to celebrate the success it’s seen with Le Meridien, it keeps looking forward to an even brighter future. Half of Le Meridien hotels around the world have been renovated or will be renovated by the end of 2012, according to Starwood.
And it’s building on successful guest satisfaction scores, a fact that remains a source of pride for Starwood’s leader. “One of the things I’m happy about is the guest satisfaction scores,” Van Paasschen said. Starwood says it has reached the highest level of guest satisfaction scores in the history of the brand. It also says that it has reached the highest ADR in the history of the brand. RevPAR index has reached the brand’s highest mark as well at 1054 points in 2010. In addition, the company says that the amount of Le Meridien stays booked online has doubled in the past four years.
It’s been a quick five-year journey for Le Meridien as part of Starwood and executives say they it’s only the beginning.