One year, 20 hotels: How Starwood's Tribute Portfolio is going global

(The Kiroro, A Tribute Portfolio Hotel)

In celebration of its first birthday, Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio signed deals to add three new properties to the collection, bringing the brand’s total to 20—double the estimate from last year's launch. 

When surveying its Starwood Preferred Guest Members, Tribute leaders found that 62 percent wanted a property in Shanghai—as such, the brand has signed its first property in China. 

Members also requested beach destinations, particularly in Florida. As a result, the brand will open an as-yet-unnamed 323-room hotel in Tampa and The Sarasota Modern, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, in Sarasota.

The brand’s expansion path, Dave Marr, global brand leader for the Tribute Portfolio, said, is guided by SPG members and their feedback. “When you ask them a question, they will give you a solid answer,” he said. Through dinners, receptions and surveys with top SPG members, the Tribute team determined where demand was strongest. “That’s become a cheat sheet for the brand, for us to talk with our development executives in different parts of the world,” he said. Ski destinations are popular, he noted, so the brand already has a property in lodges in Hokkaido, Japan—a destination that gets 60 feet of snow per year. “We’re looking at opportunities in Europe to get a second and maybe a third ski destination,” he said. 

SPG members have also suggested opening properties in Indonesia (Jakarta and Bali) and Bangkok. “We’re having discussions there and trying to find the right hotel in that part of the world,” Marr said. 

The growth in China is particularly important, he said, with many Chinese citizens traveling domestically before exploring other countries. Brand awareness will benefit all hotels under the Starwood umbrella, Marr said. “As they travel domestically within China, they’re learning about Westin. They’re learning about W, they’re learning about St. Regis, they’re learning about the Tribute Portfolio and Sheraton—and then, when they travel outside of China, they’re seeking out those brands as well. So that’s beneficial for all of our portfolios.”

Growth Strategy

Growing a soft brand is decidedly different from expanding a traditional hotel chain, Marr said. “When you start a brand, you don’t typically grow to 20 hotels in one year. Usually, when you launch a brand, you start from scratch and build them. It takes 18 months to build an Aloft. You can sign some deals, but your customers can’t touch or feel the brand for another 18 months.” 

Because the Tribute team can add hotels to the collection with a stroke of a pen, however, the portfolio could grow much faster—and the growth became self-sustaining as customers could immediately experience the product and raise awareness, bringing more deals to the pipeline. “We have 3,200 rooms open and operating,” Marr said, noting that the collection includes adaptive remodels and new-builds alike. “People understand what the portfolio is all about, and that will continue to help us continue to grow this year and next year. 

Going forward, Marr said, he wants to see the Tribute Portfolio become an even stronger global brand. “When you look outside of the U.S., 30 percent of the hotels in the world are branded and 70 percent are unbranded. We can go after some of these great hotels, and as we gain more momentum and we listen to our SPG base as to where they want us to be, I envision a year from now being in some great locations in Italy, Bangkok and Bali. I’d love to have ski resorts in Switzerland. I look at Chile and Peru—I see great opportunities there.”

And the completion of Marriott’s Starwood takeover should not be a cause for concern. “As this point, Marriott has indicated that all brands will remain intact,” Marr said. “Overall, the impending merger hasn’t had an impact on growth for Tribute Portfolio, in fact, we’ve doubled our projections. We still are having successful ongoing conversations with potential owners and we expect momentum to continue.”