A Subtle Emotional Appeal To Luxury Travelers

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DESPITE an unsettled economic climate, the Luxury Collection, an upscale brand of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, is updating its advertising to attract new guests.

Created internally, the new print and online campaign adopts a tagline developed by the brand's former agency, Atmosphere BBDO, now Atmosphere Proximity, part of the Omnicom Group: "Life is a collection of experiences. Let us be your guide." It also features photographs of still-life vignettes that contain framed snapshots of a variety of Luxury Collection hotels, plus travel souvenirs, all displayed on a credenza.

Paul James, global brand leader for Luxury Collection � a group of 79 hotels that comply with brand service standards, of which Starwood manages 41 and owns 10 � said the company "has not seen any immediate change in demand" in the wake of the stock market's recent gyrations.

"We're confident that even if there is turbulence in the market, it's the right time to talk about the Luxury Collection, to remind people about our great destinations," Mr. James said. "We will keep our eye on the market, and if we see any change in our business, at that time we'll adjust our strategy." According to Jan Freitag, senior vice president for global development at Smith Travel Research, a lodging research company, "luxury hotels are alive and well." Demand for luxury hotels in the United States is strong, he said, which has allowed them to increase rates an average of 6.4 percent in the first seven months of this year, compared with an average 3.5 percent rate increase for the industry as a whole.

"After coming out of the '09 recession," he said, luxury travelers "are psychologically prepared to take the wild gyrations of the stock market in stride. We don't expect there to be an impact on high-end leisure and business travelers because of short-term stock market changes." Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, said now was a "great time" for Starwood to promote the Luxury Collection, because luxury lodging demand in the United States would increase more than 5 percent this year.

"Volatility in the stock market has become the new norm among higher-income travelers. Their underlying wealth has not changed to the point where it would affect their lifestyle issues," he added.

� The five full-page executions of the new campaign, by the photographer David Prince, feature different hotels in the Luxury Collection, including beach and golf resorts and others with old-world European or contemporary design.

The ad for the golf resorts contains framed photographs of the Equinox in Vermont, the Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa in Dubai, and the Turnberry Resort in Scotland, as well as golf clubs, a golf trophy and a small wooden boat model representing activities available at the resorts.

Another ad, meant to promote the brand in general, features all types of hotels in Mexico, Italy, India, the United States and Peru. Souvenirs and decorative items in this ad include coral, a starfish, a clock, a small statue, a glass of wine and golf tees.

All ads also feature a selection of books whose spines face outward; instead of titles, these show the names of the hotels in the ads' framed snapshots. Mr. Prince said the campaign "is about the trigger points that stimulate your emotions and your memories, and the moments that inspire us when we travel." Most luxury hotel advertising, he added, tries "to present the big picture, your room, your bedding, where you're going to eat," but the new Luxury Collection campaign is "about the personal touches that make a hotel great, the elements that resonate and inspire you." Starwood ran a full-page teaser version of the new advertising in the May issue of The Financial Times's "How to Spend It" magazine and in the July issue of Departures. The ads will run this fall in both publications, and this fall and winter in Cond� Nast Traveller UK, ForbesLife, Robb Report, Bentley Magazine and Luxury Travel Advisor, a trade publication.

In addition, banner versions of the advertising will run on the Web site of the Five Star Alliance, an online travel agency specializing in luxury hotels, and on the tablet version of the 40th anniversary edition of Travel & Leisure.

Individual hotels within the Luxury Collection also have the option to customize the advertising, inserting photographs of their choice into the frames in the brand advertising. So far, hotels in Mauritius, Portugal, Argentina and Greece have opted to do this.

The budget for the global print campaign is $400,000, while the budget for online advertising, both for the brand globally and for its North American hotels, is $300,000. Neither figure includes advertising by individual hotels.

� Promoting hotel collections like the Luxury Collection can be challenging, Mr. Hanson said, because they lack consistency in features, like design. "Therefore, themes become one of the core messages to establish the image of collections. The idea that life is a collection of experiences at the luxury level is a good theme," he said.

Other experts panned the campaign's creative execution.

Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, said the advertising was "unimpressive because it's not distinctive. You could cover up the logo, and it could be advertising for almost any high-end luxury hotel." "They talk about experience, but there are no pictures of people, no experiences shown. It's too obtuse. This is not the kind of ad campaign that will cause Web sites to hum and phones to ring," he added.

Similarly, Andrew Sacks, president of AgencySacks, a New York branding and marketing agency for the affluent market, said that although "the strategy certainly makes sense, they've made the ads a little unemotional. It gives me a taste of what a Luxury Collection hotel looks like, but it doesn't necessarily help me understand what the experience of staying there would be."

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