Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is in the midst of a historic merger with Marriott International, but it isn’t waiting for the ink to dry on that deal before cutting loose with expansion plans. Starwood’s Element brand, which is big on green initiatives and sustainable design, is set to more than double its North America footprint through 2018, calling for 22 hotel openings throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Brian McGuinness, global brand leader, specialty select brands at Starwood, said the strategy behind choosing the markets for Element’s growth is fairly broad, seeking out locations where “eco-conscious, wellness-seeking” travelers are likely to go. “Travelers everywhere today care about the planet as well as their own wellbeing, and want to stay at places that share their sensibilities,” McGuinness said.
Element’s expansion in the Americas is already under way, with new hotels opening during the past 12 months in Boston; Miami; Fargo, N.D.; Bozeman, Mon.; Basalt, Colo.; and Vancouver, British Columbia. According to McGuinness, the brand also has plans to expand internationally, recently opening hotels in Frankfurt, Germany; Suzhou, China; and Amsterdam, and future openings are in the books for Calgary, Alberta; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; London; and Zhangjiakou, China.
But what prompted this growth? McGuinness said it’s all thanks to renewed interest from developers, and cites Element’s positive performance within the lifestyle sector. “Since the brand is doing so well it not only makes sense to rapidly expand, but we expect it will continue to grow rapidly in both urban and suburban markets throughout North America and beyond.”
Of Two Minds
One emerging development trend that is reflected in the Element’s expansion plans is the increase in dual-branded hotels. Of the new Elements on the way in North America, four are dual-branded with Aloft, Tribute and W hotels, and McGuinness expects the number of dual-build developments to increase over the next few years.
“I think we have a more aggressive strategy than ever before [for new builds], as there really is a boom in demand for this type of hotel build,” McGuinness said. “Travelers today want hotel brands that speak to different travel personas and a dual-branded property allows developers and owners to meet the needs of different personalities and preferences.”
McGuinness said that in addition to more new builds, Starwood also plans on investing more in sustainable innovations for the Element brand, with the goal of securing its place as a destination for travelers who have already gone green. One initiative Starwood pushed for in 2015 was the introduction of solar canopies in Element properties, which allow guests to charge devices when outside. The brand also has bikes in the hotel fitness center that power up guest devices through kinetic energy.
“We like to think we compete with ourselves first and are always trying to innovate our hotel experience to keep guests coming back again and again,” McGuinness said. “We are also piloting new things that we can talk about soon.”
In an earlier statement made in April, McGuinness said sustainability in hotels is “no longer optional,” meaning its importance to guests has risen to the point where it is now necessary to have an eco-conscious plan at every hotel. It is because of this that he sees Element as a success story, and as the economy improves and hotel development continues to gain speed, future expansion is inevitable.
For McGuinness, the new hotels won’t reflect a change in strategy, but will reinforce Element’s existing principles.
“Growing our footprint will not change our philosophy or our practices, but rather bring them to even more travelers around the world,” he said.