On the back of the confirmation a Westin will be built in the West Australian capital of Perth, HM’s Editor in Chief James Wilkinson catches up with Starwood’s Director of Acquisitions and Development for the Pacific Region, Andrew Taylor.
HM: Andrew, how important is this new project for the Westin brand in Australia? It’s been a while since new projects.
AT: This project is important for so many reasons: firstly, it’s the first 5 star hotel to be built in the CBD of Perth in some 15 years or more (I think it was the conversion of the taxation office building to the Duxton hotel in 1996). We are all too aware of the chronic shortage of quality accommodation in Perth city – once open, the Westin hotel promises to be the best in class 5 star hotel and we believe that this hotel has the ability to “re-set” the market in terms of the rooms rates guests are prepared to pay at the “top end” of the Perth market and the manner in which strong service is delivered to the guest.
The other big thing is that the hotel was a Government endorsed project – this needs to be celebrated and to my mind, the WA Government has now proven that in order to fast-track quality hotel development, a commitment by the State is often necessary. The Government’s hotel incentives are a key aspect of this deal’s success.
In terms of the Westin brand specifically, obviously the development of a 300+ room Westin hotel requires significant capital investment – hence the limited number of Westin hotels which have been built in Australia. With the Westin Perth, we have partnered with local building and investment group, BGC who could clearly see the benefit of leveraging such a strong iconic brand. BGC felt that by anchoring the project with the Westin brand, the entire FESA project including the 22 storey office tower could be properly positioned as a 5 star landmark precinct. It’s a similar story in many ways to what Starwood did with the Westin brand in both the Sydney (GPO Martin Place) and Melbourne (Melbourne City Square) hotels. We expect to see the Westin Perth perform at the top of the Perth market in the same way that the Westin Sydney and Westin Melbourne lead the 5 star competitive sets in their respective markets. It is known that the financial results from our other Westin hotels are compelling and with their strong operating performances we are confident that we will continue to expand the brand in to other key markets across the Pacific including Brisbane, Canberra, Auckland and Wellington.
HM: How will this help you sign more Westins and is there potential at present for more Westins in the region?
AT: With over 40 Westin hotels now operating in the Asia Pacific region and more than 20 in the pipeline, the Westin brand is highly sought after across our region. With its focus on innovation and creating experiences which rejuvenate the guest (heavenly bed and Westin workout) the brand has resonated particularly well with guests from across Asia Pacific. Ultimately, it is all about track record – the Westin Sydney and Melbourne, now well over 10 years old are hotels which are simply hard to beat in terms of the service and quality of product in the Australian market.
It’s the same across Asia Pacific and in late 2013, we opened the Westin Singapore at Marina Bay and already it is being hailed as offering a new standard in accommodation in that market as Singapore’s first-ever integrated hotel located within an office building. The hotel occupies levels 32 to 46 of the brand new Asia Square Tower 2 commercial development in Marina Bay which is the heart of Singapore’s bustling financial district. Once again, with the brand’s positioning around well-being, The Westin Singapore will play a significant role in the transformation of the Marina Bay development by creating what is effectively an urban oasis amongst an office precinct.
HM: This was slated to become a Le Meridien. Why the change to Westin?
AT: BGC and Starwood discussed and considered a number of brand options during the earlier phases of the project including our other two upper-upscale brands, Sheraton and Le Meridien. Both of these brands were separately capable of delivering great success to the Owner in the Perth market. However, ultimately Starwood agreed with BGC that with the established network of Westin hotels on the Eastern states (Westin Sydney and Westin Melbourne), which are key feeder markets for Perth and the proven financial track record of this brand, the Westin brand was simply compelling. It should also be noted that the guest loyalty in our Westin properties in Sydney and Melbourne are amongst the highest in the world (over 75% of room nights are made by Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG)) and we expect to see similar results in the Perth hotel.
HM: What other opportunities are you working on at present?
AT: 2014 promises to be a good year for Starwood in the Pacific. We finished 2013 with a huge amount of development activity again across all segments (the 4 star, 5 star and luxury segments) of the market. In particular, I am confident that we will be in a position to announce new hotel developments with Starwood’s Aloft brand plus we will continue our focus on the roll-out of the Four Points by Sheraton brand, which has gained momentum off the back of the announcement of the Four Points by Sheraton Brisbane (opening March 2014).
Finally, the W brand continues to be a brand of choice by hotel developers and investors in Australia and we are actively working on deals now with this brand in Sydney, Melbourne plus a third Australian city which you could say has undergone significant social and economic development in recent years. Given the ongoing innovation and success of the W brand globally (there are now 67 hotels opened and in the pipeline), I think it will be an exciting day for the industry locally when we are finally able to announce the first official signing of a W hotel in Australia, as this brand continues to set the pace in the luxury lifestyle space globally.