Marriott International furthered its repositioning of the legacy Sheraton brand this week by showcasing its vision for a new lobby design that appeals to guests and locals alike – “The World’s Gathering Place.”
The brand team built out a 4,200-square-foot vignette for owners and investors to touch and feel the communal lobby at a space adjacent to the Marriott Marquis in New York, where the industry was gathering for the NYU hotel investment conference.
After launching a new guest room prototype last year, this move served to further Marriott’s attempt to bring life back a brand now widely perceived as a bit behind the times, taking advantage of its opportunity to convince owners and developers that it has the wherewithal and muscle to turn around its third largest brand and largest outside North America in terms of room count that was once considered an industry star. “It’s our chance to do it right, and owners are giving us that chance,” said Julius Robinson, senior vice president and global brand leader for the Marriott, Sheraton and Delta brands.
Marriott reported that existing Sheraton owners have committed US$500 million to renovations across the U.S. Globally, 25% of Sheraton hotels have committed to renovations with some already underway.
Private studios that can be rented by guests and locals
Robinson met with HOTELS on Tuesday morning to tour the space and answer questions. He called the new lobby concept an “eat, work, play anywhere space” with all-day dining – more elevated than a Starbucks. “With new public spaces and rooms, along with Marriott’s distribution channels for a brand with respect and great locations – it’s a game-changer,” Robinson said. “No one has done this at scale in the segment.”
For international hotels already with higher levels of luxury, Robinson said the lobby look will be more refined and likely to include just some of the new elements. “Communal doesn’t always translate,” he added.
This week, the emphasis was on a new look public space that does have a communal feel with shared workspaces, a flexible F&B bar and co-working studios that can be reserved for an upcharge. The centerpiece community table has been custom designed with built-in wireless charging; programmable lighting and ergonomic seating; and desk compartments to lock up personal items. The entire space is hosted by a “community manager” who might go as far as to make introductions of like-minded visitors.
The new experience includes a digital platform for guests to browse and order F&B, chat with the community manager, book a studio and rsvp to events.
Robinson added a toolkit is being developed for owners to activate the space with local experiences and content.
The new prototype includes for bigger Sheratons another bar concept that is veiled during the day as not to take away from the communal lobby vibe. The F&B component called the Coffee Bar/Bar that transitions throughout the day has more of a philosophy than a set menu to give local chefs a chance to be creative. Marriott generally described the menu as non-messy items, portable, and with fast delivery.
The Coffee Bar / Bar with evolving service throughout the day
To help accommodate the yet-to-be-publicized investment criteria, Robinson said Marriott has lowered the cost of guest room redevelopment by some 30%. He also estimated a three- to five-year build out of the new public space and hotels already in the middle of lobby renovations will likely add some components of the new look. Robinson added guests will start to see pieces of the new look inside six months.
Longer term, Robinson added the brand will look at meeting space refinements – but likely not for a couple of years. What the prototype also did not include was an update to check-in spaces.
Since joining Marriott International as part of the acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts in September 2016, Sheraton has exited 6,000 rooms with another 2,000 expected to depart by the end of the year. During the same period, 5,000 rooms have been signed to the portfolio. Intent to recommend for the brand has already increased 2 points year-over-year, according to Marriott, and market share has grown for the first time in years.
Systemwide, Sheraton generates US$9.2 billion in property revenue globally. Sheraton’s portfolio currently consists of nearly 450 open hotels with 80 additional projects in the pipeline in 72 countries and territories. By 2020, the brand’s footprint is expected to expand to 90 countries.