In December of last year, Bogota, Colombia, became the third city in Latin America to get a W Hotel, ahead of other popular tourism hotspots in the region like Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires. At the time, Jorge Giannattasio, chief of Latin America operations and global initiatives for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said that Colombia is a “priority market” for Starwood as a whole. Eight months later, that sentiment was echoed by Anthony Ingham, global brand leader for W Hotels Worldwide, who has been a key player in developing Starwood’s luxury hotels for the past five years, and has focused exclusively on the W brand for the past three months.
“Colombia is booming from a cultural, doors opening to the world perspective, and in the sense that Bogota is the new hot place,” he said on location. But while Cartagena has been a popular destination for years, Bogota’s emergence as a strong business and leisure tourism hotspot boosted the city’s appeal for rapid development. “You have a booming economic situation,” he said. “Bogota’s doing very well.” Beyond the city’s strong business market, Colombia’s growing leisure-travel segment also made it a strong candidate ahead of other key hubs.
But when choosing where to develop, Ingham said that the overall destination matters less to the W team than the specific location within the urban center. “We are really clear about where we want Ws,” he said. “Then, it’s the will of the gods. Where does the right piece of land come up with the right development partner at the right time in a city that we’re really interested in? Those things came together first in Bogota, and they will come together in other cities over time.”
The final piece of the puzzle, he added, is the local population. “We look very carefully at the local scene and make sure it’s sophisticated enough to support a W. We will only put the W in a city that is sophisticated enough for us to recruit the talent for the hotel from the local population and have the right hook, attitude and service ethos.” The staff at the W Bogota are almost all locals from the city, and were each selected by general manager Ian Ciappara.
W in LatAm
The whole of Latin America, Ingham continued, is a real target for the W brand. The W Mexico City was the brand’s debut property in the market (and, Ingham noted, just went through a complete renovation). The W Santiago opened in 2009, but the brand did not see any new Latin American development until the Bogota opening in December 2014.
But the W team seems to be making up for lost time: For Latin America, the brand is slated to open new hotels in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Costa Rica, Panama and an as-yet-undisclosed Caribbean island.
Panama City, Ingham noted, going through “a complete boom” in development and tourism. As a hub for Copa Airlines, the city connects to many other Latin American destinations, and while the hotel will have a “strong leisure element,” it will mostly be geared toward business travelers. The W Kanai on the Riviera Maya, on the other hand, will be a leisure-focused resort hotel, and Ingham expects it to open in 2019.
Globally, a full 25 W hotels are in various stages of development.