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Sheraton is trying to accomplish a lot: Win "hearts and minds" of business travelers, revitalize a brand, and grow beyond 450 properties — all while its parent company is preparing to merge with another hotel giant.

The turnaround of Sheraton is underway as parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide tries to reposition the nearly 80-year-old hotel brand to appeal to modern business travelers.

Months after announcing a 10-point plan of action called Sheraton 2020 and launching a $100 million advertising and marketing campaign, the hotel company said the efforts are starting to pay off.

“We took the bold first steps toward reinvigorating Sheraton, our largest and most global brand with the launch of Sheraton 2020,” Starwood CEO Thomas Mangas said during a company earnings call earlier this month. “With the new look and feel, Sheraton is capturing the hearts and minds of the corporate traveler.”

He said the brand’s revenue per available room had increased faster than that of competitors for the past two quarters.

Dave Marr, senior vice president and global brand leader for the Sheraton and Tribute Portfolio brands, said traffic increased 20 percent to following a big marketing push that included TV commercials, print and digital ads. The company signed 75 new Sheraton deals last year, and guest satisfaction scores grew to their highest level.

But Marr said there is still much more to do as the brand — which has 450 hotels in more than 70 countries — seeks to continue to grow globally.

“We’re eight months into a five-year plan, so it’s too early to proclaim victory,” he said. “But I can tell you that the trends are definitely moving in the right direction.”

Less than a year ago, Mangas’ predecessor Adam Aron told analysts that in developed markets such as North America, Sheraton needed “to be significantly reinvigorated with a boost that can only come from top-notch marketing.”

Sheraton and Starwood executives have since talked broadly about their efforts, which includes the introduction of the new higher-end Sheraton Grand tier; the first television advertising for the brand in about a decade years; a new culinary program pairing “locally relevant” food with wine and craft beer; and a goal of opening more than 150 more properties by 2020.

Hearts and Minds

But winning “hearts and minds” is a less tangible goal. Marr said the company did extensive research to find out the best ways to earn not only business travelers’ loyalty, but also their affection.

Through that research, Sheraton has identified its target guests as “modern travelers” in their early 40s. They travel domestically on a frequent basis and internationally once every three years. These customers are proud not to be high-maintenance but expect quality and value their time, Marr said.

Those points prompted Sheraton to focus on creating effortless travel experiences, from easing the check-in process to making meetings simpler for non-profesional planners to packing a bag.

In a gesture that has been resonating with repeat corporate customers, Sheraton allows guests to leave toiletries and clothing at individual hotels and makes sure everything is clean and pressed by the time they return.

“Those are things that just make it easy for them when they show up at our doorstep,” Marr said.

The company’s research also showed that customers wanted more unique experiences when it came to the design of Sheraton hotels.

“In an 80-year-old brand like Sheraton, it was predictable,” Marr said. “In today’s traveler’s mind, they like to be surprised.”

As hotels undergo renovations, Marr said owners are being given some freedom to add more local influences to the design.

The changes at Sheraton are expected to progress as the acquisition of Starwood by Marriott International moves forward. The deal, which was announced in November, is expected to close in the middle of the year.

“I’m excited to see the Sheraton 2020 plan become even stronger under the new combination of the two companies,” said Marr, who worked for Marriott for 12 years. “I do believe Starwood and Marriott coming together will be the best possible thing for Sheraton.”

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Tags: business travel, corporate travel, sheraton, starwood

Photo credit: Lobby of the Sheraton Grand Hotel Dubai. Sheraton

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