London’s Sunday Times carries a puff piece on Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen “whose mantra is ‘refuel the cool'”
He has his work cut out for him, though I’m not sure he realizes just how.
Starwood has had four unique selling propositions, two of which were loyalty program-related and three of which have been matched or bettered by the competition over the past couple of years.
1) SPG True Redemption. This was the best program for award redemption, period. Not only no blackout dates but no capacity controls. But now Hilton and Hyatt both explicitly matches this, and in practice Priority Club seems close.
2) Platinum suite upgrades. Intercontinental Royal Ambassador has long had a better upgrade policy, but the program was too small for Starwood to worry about. Hilton doesn’t offer a suite benefit. Marriott’s rules were revised a few years back to explicitly exclude suites. Starwood = suites. But not Hyatt has trumped — with 4 confirmable upgrades per year at booking, not catch as catch can at checkin. At a minimum, this no longer sets Starwood apart (although Hilton and Marriott still lag).
3) The Heavenly Bed, which they extended to the Sweet Sleeper, the Four Comfort, etc. And a concept they tried to leverage in the bathroom, and the curved shower rod was a real improvement. They forced the rest of the industry to improve their beds and for the most part they have.
4) Better properties. Aspirational properties. There remain more Starwood properties that discerning guests actually want to be at, dream of, strive towards. There are some nice Marriotts, a handful of good Hiltons. But the number of unique high-end Starwood properties is a real benefit. There are some great Hyatts of course, and some very nice Intercontinentals (e.g. Bali). And of course Starwood doesn’t compete with Aman or Peninsula. But the larger brands don’t come close to the unique positioning that Starwood offers at the higher end.
They can ‘refuel the cool’ all the want. But they have to understand they offer a reasonable product otherwise, but no longer own a trump.
And I do believe — and certainly a number of people inside SPG at least do understand — that they need to recapture that.