NEW YORK — Marriott International has unveiled a plan to revamp the Sheraton Hotels and Resorts brand, which has been struggling for years to earn high marks among consumers.
Marriott acquired Sheraton when it purchased Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2016. With 444 hotels in 72 countries, Sheraton is the third largest of Marriott’s 30 brands by room count. It is the largest brand outside of the USA, also by room count. Sheraton was created 81 years ago.
The brand makes up 42 percent of the portfolio of hotels that Marriott acquired from Starwood.
“From the moment we closed the Starwood merger in late 2016, the revitalization of Sheraton has been a top priority for our company,” Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International, said in a written statement.
Already, 25 percent of the owners of Sheraton hotels have committed to spending about $500 million on renovations of hotels across the USA.
Marriott showcased its plans for changes to Sheraton’s common areas at a pop-up at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York this week.
Lobbies will now have a town square feel to them. There will be more comfortable seating and communal tables. The tables will have lockable drawers for guests to store their devices when they have to take bathroom or other breaks.
Privacy booths will be available for guests to make phone calls. Guests will be able to rent “collaboration suites,” small partially enclosed meeting areas. And they will be able to reserve them through Marriott’s mobile app.
A “coffee bar bar” will serve coffee by day and alcoholic beverages and more by night.
Guestrooms will be revamped with desks that can be lowered or raised for sitting or standing.
Marriott spent six months developing the adjustable desk, which has USB ports located in the center. It is adjacent to a three-dimensional wall that reduces sound transmission between guest rooms.
“We kept most of the furniture simple, elegant and especially comfortable,” says Lionel Sussman, vice president of global design strategies for Marriott.
Bathrooms are bigger with a 6-foot shower and a 5-foot vanity. The vanity has a smart mirror that includes LED lighting with dimming.
Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing and branding at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in the SC Johnson College of Business, says Sheraton is in need of a rebrand.
"Sheraton is a bland, boxy and boring brand, squarely positioned in the past as my father’s brand," Dev says. "If a brand is defined by everything a company does, almost everything about the brand is outdated. I would put every element of the brand, including its logo ... and all brand standards, on the drawing board."
Tina Edmundson, global brand officer for Marriott, says she and her team traveled to every continent to study Sheratons and figure out what was working and what wasn't.
“Guest satisfaction, especially in the U.S., was not where it should be,” she says.
Julius Robinson, senior vice president and global brand leader at Marriott, says previous attempts to revitalize the brand were “disjointed.”
For one thing, he says, Starwood was not aggressive enough in deflagging subpar hotels.
“We know the hotels that have to leave the system,” he says.
Those Sheraton hotel owners who do not want to make the required changes are welcome to rebrand to another Marriott brand or completely leave the company, Edmundson says.
One of the owners buying into the new strategy is Naveen Kakarla, CEO of Hersha Hospitality Management, which owns a few Sheratons.
“There’s a good understanding of what makes a consumer feel comfortable and special and cared for without having a process get in the way,” he says. “There’s a strong effort toward driving quality, efficiency and consistent service.”
Karkala likes that Marriott is not requiring a three-meal a day formal restaurant at all Sheratons.
He likes the idea of the “coffee bar bar.”
“Consumers want the food and beverage, but they don’t necessarily want all the fuss,” he says. “Think of how we travel in airports. If you see how that is evolving, you see how fast casual is influencing all aspects.”