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Westin in China embraces new trends in marketing for upscale hotels

Westin Hotels & Resorts is an international hotel chain owned by Marriott International. Headquartered in White Plains, New York, Westin is the hotel brand with the longest history within Starwood Groups. In 2016, Marriott International acquired Starwood, becoming the largest hotel chain in the world. Westin in China is mostly located in tier 1 and 2 cities, and has garnered a reputation for luxury.

Westin has over 230 hotels and resorts in 36 countries and districts in the world. It focuses on the market of high-end consumers. All Westin hotels are recognized by local authorities as five-star hotels. Westin prefers to place its hotels (resorts not included) in city centers, providing its customers with the most convenient location if they want to go sightseeing or shopping. Westin’s 160 hotels and resorts are all known for their modern design, exceptional customer service and relaxing atmosphere.

Westin Hotels & resorts provides customers with relaxing accommodations for them to come back to after spending a day enjoying the surrounding locations. Each Westin Hotel is located in areas that offer unique experiences for its customers. Westin has a history of focusing on wellness, and it continues its commitment to its travelers’ well-being and healthy lifestyle.

What is unique about Westin in China

Westin now operates 25 hotels in China Mainland: four in Guangdong, four in Hainan, three in Zhejiang, two in Beijing, two in Fujian, two in Shandong and one in each of Anhui, Jiangsu, Jilin, Hubei, Shanxi, Tianjin, Wuhan, Shanghai. The above hotels are located in Tier 1 or Tier 2 cities. Currently, China is home to the second largest number of Westin hotels worldwide, second only to the United States. In China’s luxury hotel market, Westin ranked eighth in terms of the number of hotels among all international 5-star hotel brands in 2008, while Sheraton had the most number of hotels (70).

Increasing demand in China’s luxury hotel market brings opportunity for Westin China

Since entering China in 1991, Westin has targeted wealthy Chinese customers. In the last 20 years, China’s promising GDP growth and increasingly affluent consumers have led to high demand for luxury goods and services. The growth of high-yielding consumers contributes to the blooming of the domestic high-end travel and China’s luxury hotel market.

According to GlobalData, China was the largest luxury hotel market worldwide in 2018, with year-over-year (YOY) growth of 18.3%. In 2019, China’s luxury hotel market still had a YOY growth rate of 10.2%. It is predicted that China will continue this momentum in the next few years with a growing number of high-net-worth citizens.   

How Westin adds Chinese elements

Westin also pays close attention to the local culture of the city and the country where its hotels lie and holds cultural events to accommodate these differences.

In Wuhan, Westin held a luxury traditional family reunion dinner to celebrate the Spring Festival. The event offered Westin customers dishes from different geographical regions of China. Various types of tea were also available.

In Hefei, the Westin held a “Mooncake Show” in late August. The show was held in preparation for the Mid-Autumn festival where mooncakes are traditionally eaten. The Westin offered each of its customers four different mooncakes at the show to give them a little taste of China.

In Beijing, the Westin offered its customers a variety of crab dishes. Chinese people love to eat crab in Autumn, but crab is not farmed in Northern China. The Westin gives Northern consumers a chance to enjoy a delicacy that they normally cannot enjoy.

Westin in China:leveraging the power of new marketing. Co-branding marketing

Co-branding marketing of Westin China × KEEP

Source: Westin China’s Weibo, Co-branding marketing of Westin China × KEEP

Partnering with “KEEP”, an easy-to-use  Chinese fitness app, Westin is able to improve customer experiences and strengthen its brand image. Westin and KEEP cooperate to satisfy business travelers’ sports needs by providing a full range of fitness activities. 

The collaboration covers in-room courses, running-related and fitness center courses. First, for in-room courses, KEEP and Westin jointly open exclusive TV channels provided in Westin Hotel. Based on the space environment of hotel rooms, KEEP customizes a set of sports courses suitable for hotel guests to exercise in the room. Second, Westin China adjusted its “RunWestin” program, generating its characteristic health running map route in the KEEP App. Hotel guests and city runners can easily use the Westin health running map in the App, and the App can record and collect related personal performance data. Third, for fitness center courses, KEEP also provides Westin with a complete solution, including training, yoga and other courses. These are to better serve the personalized fitness needs of travelers. Hotel guests can easily scan the QR code in the hotel gym to get recommended courses and enjoy working out. 

Why the Westin x KEEP co-branded marketing works

Why is this innovative collaboration so successful? Two similarities between two partner brands can explain this.

First, both brands advocate healthy lifestyles and emphasize keeping fit. Westin hotel has focused on fitness since it was created and is committed to bringing customers health and wellness in addition to a comfortable accommodation experience. Westin promises to enable guests to maintain their workout routine during they stay in the hotels. Such a promise aligns with KEEP’s brand image that has always been centered on creating a “free sports ground”. Based on the same idea, two brands can join forces to help travelers stay fit and have a healthy lifestyle.

Second, two brands share a similar customer base. Westin and KEEP team up to explore the material and emotional needs of high-end traveler groups. Through this cooperation, both parties leverage rich experience in different fields to jointly develop deeper customer insights, and achieve a full range of sports needs for the target customers.

Innovative marketing method achieves better results

Different from simple co-branding marketing, in which two brands only jointly hold activities or produce products, the cooperation between Westin and KEEP has more significant meaning and better results. It embodies a common vision of two parties, and tightly integrates brand values, market experience and customer insights.

Partnering with KEEP, Westin creates some brand new elements to its traditional hotel identity. Hotel’s high-tech hardware facilities and services activated by the Internet help Westin shape a more active and rich brand image. Westin will attract more loyal guests by offering them one-stop solutions for sports needs in traveling. 

New marketing strategy: social media marketing

Nowadays, social media has built an instant and tight connection between brands and customers, especially for the hospitality business. More and more Chinese are used to checking peer reviews and comments on popular Chinese social media like Weibo, Xiaohongshu and Tiktok before purchasing products or services. In these cases, social media plays a vital role in deciding travelers’ purchasing choices. Several Westin hotels, which are instagrammable luxury stays, earn their reputation on Chinese social media.

Weibo, Red –KOLs’ posts about Westin China

Source: Weibo, Red –KOLs’ posts about Westin China

On Chinese social media platforms, it is easy to find some KOLs (Online Key Opinion Leaders) posts about people’s stay experiences at Westin hotels. Their posts usually show the luxurious decoration, comfortable environment, considerate service and stunning views of the hotels. With more and more KOLs sharing wonderful stay experiences, Westin raises its awareness among Chinese consumers. Currently, Westin hotels in some cities, like the Westin Chongqing Liberation Square, have become “internet-famous” hotels, attracting tons of travelers to stay or just take pictures.

Weibo, Red –Consumers’ posts about Westin China

Source: Weibo, Red –Consumers’ posts about Westin China

Many people, especially millennials, are keen to share their high-quality lifestyle experiences on social media. It is trendy for them to post fantastic photos of the hotel and share their feelings when staying in the hotel. These posts can have millions of views, and thus cause a “network effect,” which helps advertisement for the Westin.

Recovering from coronavirus: upscale hotels should take “smart” strategies

The tourism industry and the hotel market have suffered huge losses from the coronavirus outbreak. In order to reduce loss and raise occupancy rates, many hotels made dramatic price-drops during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Until now, a lot of hotels have still dropped the price to entice consumers. However, it is not a wise strategy, since starting a race by dropping the prices will hurt profits across the entire industry. All hotels will lose out and it would be hard for the hotel market to recover from the crisis. In addition, price promotion strategies may have a negative impact on brand images of upscale hotels like Westin.

To recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in a relatively short time, hotels could take action more smartly. For example, they should offer more “value-adds” services to attract travelers, like Westin’s co-branding marketing. Also, leveraging popular Chinese social media to have users advertise for brands seems like a wise marketing strategy.

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