WHITE PLAINS, New York—Brian Povinelli spent eight years working at Reebok, which he describes as a “classic challenger brand,” always competing for the top spot but never fully achieving it. He spent the past five years working his way up the ranks at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. So, in March, when Nancy London chose to leave her post as global brand leader of Westin Hotels & Resorts to join a new fashion venture co-founded by her sister, Povinelli jumped at the opportunity. He welcomed the chance to finally take the helm of an industry leader.
“Westin is a world-class brand, plain and simple,” he said. “Being able to set the vision for the future and ensure that we maintain our leadership position is a great challenge that really excites me.”
Westin, with 179 properties spread across 36 countries, is at a pivotal point in its brand life. The wellness platform by which Westin differentiates itself among its upper-upscale competitors is becoming widely accepted. Travelers are bringing their lifestyles on the road. And the emerging middle classes in countries such as China and India are ripe for a brand that operates with a somewhat different slant.
“I think there is an opportunity to evolve the tone of voice of the brand a bit,” Povinelli said. “Innovation will be a focus out of the gate … bringing an enhanced guest experience with an (return on investment) for our owners is key.”
Povinelli adopted Westin’s wellness approach in his personal life even before he joined the brand. He stays active and maintains a healthy lifestyle while on the road and in everyday life. He’s an active runner, having participated in numerous road races and triathlons. Now he hopes to spread that awareness through the brand’s culture, both in North America and globally.
Westin plans to add an additional 31 hotels by 2016, and it’s no secret nearly all of the growth will take place overseas. The growth will be fueled by franchising, licensing and management agreements.
Povinelli sees an unprecedented opportunity for international growth, and said Westin is quickly establishing itself as an international market leader. He recently returned from a weeks-long trip to India, which he said was “truly amazing and enlightening.”
“The sheer volume of people concentrated in urban centers that are still putting in key infrastructure elements creates an energy and sort of organized chaos that I’ve never seen before,” he said. “The feeling that this country is on the fast track is palatable—not only in that energy but in the attitude of the Indian people who are hungry for success.”
Westin has five properties in India that opened during the past 18 months, each with Heavenly Spas, which accommodate the spa-rich Indian culture. Two more Westins are in the pipeline in India.
In China, there are seven Westins and 11 more will open during the next two years. The Westin Wuhan Wuchang will open 30 July; Westin Pazhou on 1 September; Westin Ningbo on 30 September; Westin Chongqing Liberation Square on 1 October; and the Westin Xian on 31 October. Another six hotels are slated to open in 2012.
“Demand continues to outpace supply in China and there is still a long runway for growth, especially when you consider that China has 171 cities with populations more than one million. Most of these cities do not yet have a major international branded hotel,” Povinelli said. “We are opening some of the world’s best Westins in that region.”
He said forming the right partnerships with owners and managers in China is extremely important. Starwood has been able to find some development partners in locations in India where other international companies—Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte—are developing software hubs.
In both growth countries, Povinelli’s priority lies in helping local travelers become familiar with the brand and its specific positioning. It will take time and investment, he said.
“We are investing in our in-market sales teams, in our brand marketing efforts and in key partnerships,” he said.
For example, Westin has partnered with the IPL and the Delhi Daredevils cricket team. “This sport is like a religion in India and a great way to increase brand awareness with the local population,” he said.