Witty, warm, welcoming ... whatever

Does the world really need another hotel brand? ATLANTA - Does the world really need another hotel brand? There has been no new brand in the luxury segment in the past 20 years, points out Brian Windle, vice president, sales & marketing, for W Hotels. Now, White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is hoping to fill that void with W, "the first new brand of the next millennium."

If you haven't heard, W - which "stands for all the wonderful words that start with W" and is not derived, as one might suspect, from "Westin" - is the brainchild of Starwood Chairman Barry Sternlicht, who has been actively involved in designing the brand "with a little bit of attitude."

Skepticism aside, it seems there may actually be viable demand for the new product. "The fastest growing segment right now of the business travel hotel market is boutique hotels catering to more affluent, younger business travelers," observes Jason Ader, senior managing director of Bear Stearns, New York. "What the W provides or will offer is a boutique product for a more discerning business customer."

Starwood opened its second W hotel, in Atlanta at the former Sheraton Hotel and Suites at Perimeter Center, in February with opening room rates of $166 per night. The first W opened in New York in December, at the site of the former Doral Inn, with rates starting at $279 per night.

"So far in New York, the experience, from our research, for most of their customers has been quite positive, and there's a market for that product in really the top 25 cities in the U.S., and internationally as well," says Ader. "So we think it's going to be a very interesting new brand creation for Starwood and one that should generate incremental profits for the shareholders."

Of the first 14 W hotels planned to open in the next 18 months, all but two - the San Francisco and Seattle properties - will be renovations. Furthermore, while most of the early W hotels will be company-owned as Starwood works the kinks out of the brand, Windle does say that the company is in talks regarding a couple of possible management contracts for properties Starwood would not own, maybe even one in Sydney.

What makes W different from anything else on the market today? Start with the lobby, which is called the "living room" and contains books and games. Each hotel also will have a first-class, independent restaurant as well as a cafe and international newsstand. Guest rooms feature "the most heavenly bed" with 250 thread count sheets, down comforters and pillows; a radio/CD player; a 27 inch TV with high-speed Internet access; a dual-line cordless phone with speaker and conference capabilities; custom leather desk accessories; and Aveda custom bath products.

And just in case guests can't get enough W, products will be available for purchase through a catalogue or over the Internet.

EPA program promises savings for hotel managers La Quinta Inns expects to save $1.2 million a year. Outrigger Hotels Hawaii saves $476,626. The New York Marriott Marquis saves $99,174. How do they do it? They are all participants in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star Buildingssm program, a voluntary, profit-based partnership that helps hospitality organizations save money and protect the environment.

As part of the program, EPA offers PR opportunities, technical analysis software, educational workshops, "unbiased" technical documents, case studies on technologies and strategies used by the hospitality sector, opportunities to network within the industry and a personal account manager to act as a resource.

For more information on the program, contact EPA at (888) STAR YES or check out its Website at www.epagov/buildings.

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