Element Complements Periodic Growth With Corporate Sustainability Pitch - Business Travel News

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Element Complements Periodic Growth With Corporate Sustainability Pitch

December 18, 2012 - 08:15 AM ET

By Michael B. Baker

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's smallest brand is banking on the appeal of its sustainability initiatives to attract corporate travel buyers.

The Element brand opened its first property in 2008, about the same time as Starwood's other select-service brand, the W-companioned Aloft, made its debut. While the Aloft brand since has grown to several dozen properties, Element has maintained a decidedly smaller footprint, with 10 properties open and three more on track to open next year, said Brian McGuinness, Starwood senior vice president of specialty select brands. Though Starwood's initial plans—pre-recession plans, specifically—called for about 100 properties to be open by now, its slower progress has been deliberate, he said.

"We've been very strategic on where we put them and who we partner with," McGuinness said. "You need the right location, the right owner and the right operator."

Initially positioned as an extended-stay brand, some of Element's properties primarily focus on transient travelers. The Element Times Square, for example, "doesn't run as an extended stay, but doesn't need to," McGuinness said.

"Complimentary wine and cheese hour in the evening, barbecues every Wednesday night, a good swimming pool, a big gym and a great rate: That's your corporate transient right there," McGuinness said.

Element also was designed to be Starwood's "eco-lab," in which the company would test sustainability concepts that it potentially could spread to its other brands. Sustainability features include body heat sensors to control room temperature when guests are not present, water-saving bathroom fixtures, saline pools instead of chlorine pools and a requirement that all builds earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The newest initiative, launched this month across the brand, added to the properties' gyms stationary bikes that double as kinetic energy power generators to charge phones and power television monitors.

That is helping the brand, despite its small distribution, in winning some corporate and group business through the request-for-proposals process, McGuinness said. While sustainability questions for years have been included in hotel RFPs, they are getting increasingly specific in requesting details of the green practices hotels use, he said.

"[Travel departments] are getting more educated on what they're looking for, and customers in the RFP process love the fact that we are doing green initiatives," McGuinness said. "The Florida government, for example, has restrictions on where they can put meetings based on green practices, so we're well ahead of this curve."

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