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DIALOGUE: Simply the West - Interview with Brian Povinelli, Global Brand Leader, Westin Hotels & Resorts
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altBrian Povenelli’s CV makes for impressive reading. Having won numerous accolades during his time at sports giant Reebok, including Footwear News Marketer of the Year, and being honoured by Time magazine for one of the Best Ten Ads of 2001, his Starwood career began in 2006 when hired to lead global brand marketing for Sheraton. Consequently managing the marketing strategy behind the Sheraton brand’s historic USD 6 billion revitalisation and repositioning, he is currently Global Brand Leader for Westin Hotels & Resorts, where he is responsible for the overall vision and strategic direction of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ wellness brand, as well as the overall brand management, compliance, integrity, and positioning of the Westin brand. Given this vast experience, Business Tianjin was delighted to hear his thoughts. 

How do you see the brand expanding over the next few years?

Aggressively. There are currently 15 Westin Hotels in China, and 9 more under development. In Asia, we have 30 hotels with another 15 under development. Expect this list to grow.

How does your vision and culture relate to your brand positioning?

Our vision is based around the idea that guests leave the hotel feeling better than when they arrived, and we do this by creating a hotel ‘for a better you’. This is achieved in various ways, such as helping guests sleep well through the Westin Heavenly Bed, eat well through our ‘Super Foods Program’, and move well through our ‘New Balance Program’ which makes it easier for guests to work out. We also have our heavenly spas. These unique core programs separate us from the competition.

altWhich of these programs has been best received?

It has to be the Heavenly Bed. Westin was the first hotel to ensure the bed was the centre of the hotel experience. This bed delivers on its promise of a heavenly sleep. Demonstrated by the fact that we have privately sold over 100,000 of these beds to customers to use in their homes, Westin is consequently regarded as having produced one of the greatest innovations in the industry within the last decade. 

Where do you look for inspiration as a Global Brand Leader? 

Everywhere! Starwood is the leader in the hospitality industry, so I look to other industries for inspiration. What are the Airlines doing? What are car companies doing? Basically, I look at hospitality or any industry that provides a service. A specific example could be Apple stores, whose service and Genius Bars have created an excellent retail environment. We can learn from this kind of thing.

In what other ways are you different from your competitors?

We are a much more modern and forward looking brand. This is what appeals to people. The core programmes previously mentioned are important, but equally important is our intuitive service. We predict and anticipate the demands and needs of customers

In parts of the world, Westin is a franchise. How do you ensure your high standards are universally maintained?

In Asia, we have no franchises, but we have some in North America. For these, we have strict criteria and a very rigorous selection policy. All hotels are also subjected to an annual audit, and through the audit and criteria, we are able to maintain a consistent experience.  

altHow have Westin Hotels & Resorts stayed strong for so many years? What are the key priorities for the brand going forward? 

We have stayed strong by continuing to be innovative. Starting with the Heavenly Bed, we really have been the brand that has redefined certain categories. We have done this again with the Westin work out and ‘New Balance Program’. This programme, also known as ‘gear lending’, offers customers the opportunity to borrow gym equipment such as tennis shoes during their stay with us, rather than having to pack their own. We noticed that for many customers it was inconvenient to pack such things, and this extra service will make their lives simpler. Prior to Westin’s focus on the gym experience, many of our competitors believed it was sufficient to simply put a few pieces of gym equipment in a room. Once again, we have raised the bar. We were also the first brand to have a healthy meal option. It is this constant innovation that has kept us at the cutting edge of the industry, and more innovation is on its way. For example, we are currently looking to redefine the way people work. With the evolution of technology, the traditional business centre (such as renting a meeting room for a day) is not as relevant as it once was, so we are looking to create more flexible meeting spaces (available say by the hour) which again will improve our customer’s lives. In terms of future priorities, we want to grow in a smart way, by which I mean being smart about where we open hotels and at what pace we do it. We also want to be in markets where we can clearly add something different. Our strategy was about penetrating the major cities first, and now that we are doing that, we are moving on to second tier cities and also starting to add resorts to our portfolio. 

How do you market your Westin Hotels & Resorts? Who do you market it to?

Business’s and business people are the core customers for Westin and this is why, as a major economical centre, having a hotel in Tianjin made so much sense. Westin is a five-star luxury hotel, so naturally, we target upper class clients as well as the expanding middle class. We market our hotel through the programmes discussed, and by providing customers with luxurious experiences. Westin’s core values, such as offering a heavenly sleep, the ‘Westin Workout’, and the ‘Super Food Program’ are universally present in our hotels, but we also make the hotels as locally relevant as possible and cater to the unique demands of every market and culture to enhance the overall experience.

By Chris Wilson 
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