A continued positive outlook on the recovery of the North American hotel market was readily apparent at the first-quarter 2011 ASFONA (Association of Starwood Franchisees & Owners – North America) Board of Directors meeting in Washington DC. The meeting, which was held at The “W” Hotel Washington D.C. in March, was attended by a number of Starwood senior corporate management representatives, together with owners, franchisees, hotel management company executives and ASFONA associate members, representing some of the most highly respected suppliers to the hotel industry. Attendees listened to presentations on improving market conditions, changing guest preferences, specifically in the upscale to luxury sector, and also emerging technologies that are poised for increased adoption in the hospitality industry as the economic recovery continues to gain momentum.
“The past two-year period has been one of the most challenging times in history for the hotel industry as a whole,” stated John Shingler, ASFONA president. “However, many Starwood owners, franchisees and management companies with Starwood brands have begun seeing improved market conditions that are translating to impressive REVPAR and occupancy growth. This is due in part to the strength of our brands and the support of one of the world’s strongest hotel organizations.”
The ASFONA Board meeting began on a positive and highly informative note, as Bobby Bowers of Smith Travel Research presented a North American lodging industry overview, which tracked overall market conditions from 2008 to today, as well as a specific focus on the top 15 markets in the U.S.
“Although hoteliers have been only cautiously optimistic for some time now, we believe the market is now showing some really positive demand indicators,” added Shingler. “The upscale full service and luxury markets, which were the first to be impacted by the downturn, have also been the first to recover. We believe that our strong Starwood brands will lead the charge in capitalizing on further global economic growth and recovery over the next several years and beyond.”
The second day of the ASFONA Board meeting in Washington saw further evidence of this statement, as Starwood presented an overview of the strength and growth of the Sheraton brand, which represents approximately 50% of the Starwood portfolio worldwide. As many upscale brands have been challenged in ratings and guest preference polls during the past several years, Sheraton has implemented new initiatives and programs that have propelled the brand in both numbers and ratings. The Sheraton brand initiatives were conceived and based on extensive research of guest preferences and travel characteristics.
Additional presentations by Starwood executives and ASFONA’s honorary board members identified important trends toward further enhancing the guest experience through technology, such as expanded bandwidth, improved connectivity and other emerging in-room technologies that must be geared toward today’s tech-savvy traveler.
“Starwood’s mission is to drive brand value and market demand by meeting the needs of their owner-franchisees and their discriminating guests,” Shingler summarized. ” The economic outlook is improving but we still can’t take our eyes of the critically important initiatives being developed in technological innovation, together with additional operational efficiencies and sales and marketing activities geared to drive increased market penetration and growth.”