Starwood’s Brand, Digital, and Design Teams Unite in New Creative Workspace

On the 10th floor of an office building nestled in New York City’s Garment District, Starwood Hotels and Resorts is putting the finishing touches on the company’s new creative hub. With the spirit of a start-up, Starlab will become the nexus for the brand, digital, and design teams.

The space features a dedicated bike room, open workspaces, and a “digital chandelier” that shares real-time info of what’s being said about Starwood (good and bad) on social media. “It connects us very viscerally to the reality of the business we’re in,” says Phil McAveety, EVP and chief brand officer.

Nooks of inspiration filled with books, artwork, and even shoes and decorative mirrors sit throughout the 46,000-square-foot spot. Branded meeting rooms for St. Regis, Luxury Collection, W Hotel, and Le Méridien give owners, developers, and other potential partners a real sense of each property. For example, guests can sit at the bar in the W meeting room.

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During a mid-November visit, Starlab was about 80 percent finished and some of the 200 employees already had moved in. A January soft opening is planned. With the smell of fresh paint in the air, Lodging sat down with McAveety to get a sneak peek of the company’s new workspace.

Can you give me a snapshot of what will go on at Starlab and why Starwood wanted to create such a dynamic space in New York City? The guest experience has become the product of many things. People expect contemporary, leading-edge physical design, and they expect the spaces to be activated and programmed. Technology now needs to be woven in seamlessly before, during, and after the stay. But still there are some timeless elements that really deliver the hospitality experience. What we’re trying to do here is bring together the key ideation folks working on design—that’s architecture, interior design, digital design, and graphic design; the programming—how we bring the spaces to life through food and beverage, and music and entertainment programs; and digital and technology. Those folks have been working together for some time, but there’s a huge benefit to having them physically sit together, playing off each other and creating new ideas, new thinking.

The other benefit of an Manhattan base is with recruiting and retaining creative talent. Our corporate offices in Stamford, Conn., aren’t so far away, but the people working in digital and design, tend to be in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Hoboken, N.J. Having a central destination for them really helps.

A corporate common trap is staying in your own silo and never really branching out, so it seems having everyone so close to each other must be a huge benefit. It forces integration. It’s not that we weren’t working together before, but when you cohabit quite so closely, you learn all kinds of new things. It really does create a sense of energy and a connection to our clients.

I think this physical space is going to help a lot, but we need to stay focused on anything we do has to be not innovation for the sake of innovation, not technology for the sake of technology. It’s how is this enhancing the guest experience, and in the long-term, how will that make the guest more connected to our brand and drive business.

With technology, Starwood has pushed the boundaries with things like the robotic butler and the Google Glass app. What’s next for Starwood, and how can you stay ahead of the competition? A large part of our focus is really around how we continue to enhance and personalize delivery for our guests, but I do think it’s important to say that technology is part of that solution. Because ultimately, our guests don’t stay in an app. They stay in a hotel. And if mobile technology applications can help enhance the experience, either through the booking process or through their stay or post-stay through our loyalty program, that’s great. What we’re trying to do here is bring together different elements to deliver the overall guest experience.