We don't want to be the biggest--we want to be the best." That used to be Westin's motto. "It worked for 60 years. Now, we know we have to expand to survive," said Brian Windle, Westin's director of sales, resorts, in opening the Sixth Annual Westin Insurance Advisory Board meeting in August.
The meeting brought two dozen planners and suppliers together at the dramatic 243-room Westin Regina Los Cabos at the tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Westin, "a once-sleepy brand," Windle told the planners, "is now going gangbusters," with 108 hotels in 23 countries.
With its aggressive growth and increased profitability, Westin has become a prime takeover target, and, indeed, in early September, Starwood Lodging Trust announced that it would buy the chain. Only the month before, Starwood (the same company that at press time was the likely buyer of ITT Corp., owner of the Sheraton hotel chain) had purchased the three Westin Regina resorts in Mexico, including the Los Cabos property. Some of the other 120 hotels in the Starwood portfolio apparently will be renovated and reflagged as Westins once the deal goes through.
On the Docket The advisory board heard from Rick Hance, regional director of sales, East, about Westin's newest properties and its 21 hotels under development--in locations from Utah to Paris to St. John, USVI. Among the biggest pieces of news: Westin once again has a property in New York City. The company has entered into an agreement with the 900-room New York Palace, on Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st streets. Recently renovated at a cost of $100 million, the New York Palace is now actively pursuing group business.
In addition to Westin's slew of new developments, the advisory board's roundtable discussion covered a number of meeting-related topics. Pushing a lot of hot buttons was the issue of third-party meeting planners and how to demonstrate the advantages--financial and otherwise--of planning meetings in-house as opposed tothem.
Michele McShane sales manager at the Westin Regina Los Cabos played gracious host to the group, showing off the hotel's wonderful venues, such as Arrecifes, its cliffside, open-air restaurant. An off-property dinner at Pitahaya Restaurant was another oceanside highlight, and all was capped off with the final night Cannibal's Ball at the water's edge--a barbecue dinner by torchlight in the hotel's private cove.