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By Kristen Smith,
Assistant Editor, Digital Content
VAUGHAN, ON—Starwood Hotels and Resorts celebrated the opening of its first international Element property on Sept. 11 at the Element Vaughan Southwest. The property, located near the corner of Highways 27 and 7 north of Toronto, opened for business on June 27. (See CLN September 2013.) The opening celebrations featured a bicycle-powered “ribbon cutting” in alignment with the brand’s green attributes.
Launched in 2008, Element is the youngest brand under Starwood’s specialty select brands portfolio.
Toronto native heads three brands
Paige Francis, vice-president, global brand management, specialty select brands, Starwood Hotels and Resorts worldwide, joined the Element team to help launch the brand.
The Toronto native started with Starwood about a decade ago with the St. Regis and luxury collection in a marketing role and has had her newest title for about three years. The brands in her portfolio include Element, Aloft and Four Points. Prior to Starwood, Francis worked in brand and project management at Nestlé Canada and Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.
She led the effort to create a distinct brand identity for Element Hotels, while also leading the marketing team for Aloft.
“We are working very closely with our partners and developers to find the right locations that make sense for each of these brands; there’s definitely tremendous growth opportunity for both of these brands in Canada,” Francis told CLN.
Element an “elevated experience”
The new 152-room Element joins 10 U.S. properties; a second Canadian Element is planned in Burnaby, BC next year; and another in Calgary for July 2016. Other international ventures are in the works for Germany (2014) and China (2015).
Focused on the extended-stay market, the mid-market brand offers common areas, in-room kitchens, ready-to-cook meals and a food pantry, a fitness centre with stationary bikes that also charge personal electronics, daily breakfast and complimentary evening receptions. It’s what Francis calls an elevated experience with “all the services the guest needs and wants but not all the bells and whistles of the high-end brands.
“For Element, we took our cues from the Westin,” said Francis, pointing to its clean, contemporary design and light-filled spaces. “It’s hard not to notice how the light floods through the space.”
While there isn’t a lobby bar—as is found in Aloft hotels—Starwood created spaces there for working, socializing and being outside.
“People want to get out of their room and they might want to be alone, but they don’t want to be lonely,” said Francis.
Element, said Francis, caters to the healthy, active traveller who is looking to maintain routines while on the road. “Sometimes I joke that Element is almost the life I wish I could live at home, while on the road,” she said.
Starwood has mandated the Element hotels achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and the Vaughan location is aiming for silver.
“People experience the hotel, then they discover it’s green. Somehow they have this great green experience that hasn’t compromised any of the things that are sacred to the traveller, for example, a great shower,” said Francis, noting the rainfall shower still is low-flow, but maintains great pressure.
Aloft suits trend-focused traveller
She said depending on why people are travelling, they tend to choose different brands, and Aloft is geared toward a more trend-focused traveller or social trip.
Francis noted that in Lexington, KY, Starwood has two properties across from one another and if she is travelling alone, she chooses the Element, but if meeting colleagues, she opts for Aloft.
The first Aloft opened in June 2008 and Starwood opened a total of 18 locations that year, including Beijing, China.
“It was the fastest brand launch in the history of brand launches,” said Francis, noting Aloft is approaching 75 locations in 13 countries. There are two in Canada and another is scheduled to open in July 2016 near Calgary University.
“As a company, Starwood saw there was a very clear opportunity in the mid-market segment to really offer something different and that travellers were really seeking more of an experience, a design-led offering,” said Francis. She said, traditionally, competing in the mid-market segment means great beds, free Wi-Fi, free bottled water, “some of those more rational attributes.” She added that Starwood is known for “creating an experience.” Taking cues from W Hotels, Aloft brings that experience to the mid-market segment by creating a social experience in the lobby.
She said Aloft has catered to the next generation of traveller and has “resonated beautifully.”
Also in Francis’ domain is the quickly growing Four Points brand, with more than 175 locations in 30 countries. With 21 global openings this year and 21 more in 2014, it has the second largest Starwood pipeline behind the Sheraton brand.
Francis said the brand, with its full foodservice, best brews program, and recently launched complimentary Wednesday barbecue, allows each hotel to showcase its region and appeals to the “self-sufficient traveller who is still looking for a very stylish experience.”