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Design Hotels to become ‘the 11th Starwood brand’ – adds great London options

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Design Hotels is a marketing alliance for 280 design-led, modern hotels around the world.  It operates in a similar way to Leading Hotels of the World, allowing independent properties to gain access to a central marketing and reservation system.

In the UK, for example, it represents high-end hotels such as Blakes, Boundary (the Terence Conran hotel in Shoreditch), all of the Firmdale properties (Ham Yard etc), South Place and The Town Hall Hotel. It is fair to say that I would be willing to stay at any of them.

What I didn’t know is that Starwood has been the majority investor in Design Hotels since 2011, albeit on an arms length basis.  That is now going to change.

Design Hotels logo

Design Hotels is going to become the 11th Starwood brand, sitting alongside Sheraton, Westin, W etc.  This has the power to be transformational – it would take Starwood from, in effect, a bit of a joke in the UK to the chain with the most attractive high-end hotel portfolio.

The details have yet to be ironed out but Starwood has been releasing some information to investors.  This appears to be what will happen:

All Design Hotels properties will be invited to become part of the SPG ‘system’

They would be obliged to take part in Starwood Preferred Guest, both for earning and burning, and to recognise SPG elite member benefits

The hotels will be bookable via

The Design Hotels brand will remain

Some things are not clear.

It is very unlikely that all of the Design Hotels properties will want a closer relationship with Starwood.  Design Hotels does not have a loyalty scheme and there will be many properties who are fundamentally against the idea of treating certain guests differently due to their status.

The Starwood ‘last room availability’ guarantee for rewards will also cause problems for some – SPG hotels are obliged to make rooms available for redemption as long as they still have cash rooms available for sale.

What will happen to those hotels which do not want to join SPG?  Will Starwood agree to list of all of the hotels whilst allowing some to opt out of SPG (a handful of hotels already do this)?  Alternatively, will hotels who refuse see their Design Hotels membership terminated?  Will we see a breakaway grouping of hotels emerge?

The ‘hands off’ model of hotel branding has become hugely fashionable in recent years.  Marriott has Autograph.  Hilton has Curio.  Starwood has Tribute.  All three chains comprise independent, generally luxurious, hotels which refuse to sign up to ‘brand standards’ but who are increasingly happy to pay a fee in return for access to a huge base of loyalty programme members.

The response of the Design Hotels membership to the helping hand being offered by Starwood will be a good proxy for how far this trend will eventually go.

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Comments (13)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • h2d says:

    Another real positive is this will really help fill in some of the geographical gaps in the Starwood portfolio. For example Oslo and Johannesburg are two cities I have always wished for a Starwood property.

  • Alan says:

    Agree very exciting news, although as you say the devil will be in the detail!

  • Ben E says:

    The Firmdale hotels are awesome. Have done mystery visits to three of their properties and can assure that the class is very high

    • Scott says:

      For that reason I doubt that a company like Firmdale would want a closer association with Starwood. Firmdale have built their own loyalty by delivering a consistently top quality product, their occupancy and room rates are testament to that.

  • Danksy says:

    O/T has anyone had a GHA platinum experience yet?

    I’m booked to stay in Febuary and was thinking of taking out the Business Traveller Platinum Upgrade Offer… I note that after your first stay you get a platinum experience.

    I was wondering if it was worth seeking out a local GHA before I take the family to Palm Springs (Omni Rancho Las Palmas) so that when we get there we get a platinum experience…

    “Move up to Platinum Level after staying ten ‘qualifying’ nights or more in a calendar year in GHA hotels. Continue on your DISCOVERY journey as you immediately earn a unique Platinum Local Experience Award.”

    Additional Platinum Local Experience Awards will be earned every time you stay at another GHA hotel brand for the first time. Membership renewals are issued in February following a full Membership year.


    • Nick Burch says:

      I signed up a month or so ago via Business Traveller, and did a qualifying 4 night stay at a GHA property. My account shows me as having done the 4 nights, but no local experience available in my account. So, I wouldn’t count on it…

  • Rob says:

    Because that is what they signed up for originally! A marketing group without the added complexity of a loyalty scheme on top.

  • ankomonkey says:

    Semi-OT: I’ve booked St Ermin’s (Marriott Autograph) in London for 40k and £50 for a room for 4 next summer. Cash price was £399 for same room. Alternative was Crowne Plaza The City for 35k IHG points. I found the Autograph prospect far more exciting and enticing than the better value deal at CP The City.

    I think these boutique-style brands obtainable through major chain loyalty schemes are a great option.

  • Andrew says:

    I think Miles & More members have earned miles at these hotels for a couple of years.

  • Leo says:

    This could strongly impact on my hotel strategy! I’ve been amassing IGH points of late, since taking out the barclaycard with the 60,000 points. However 2 hotels which I use on a regular basis for paid (fairly expensive) holiday stays are Design Hotels. I might have to start thinking about the Starwood credit card….

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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