November 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   CAN A NEW TIMES SQUARE HOTEL FIND ITS MARKET?
Westin Is Bullish on N.Y.C.
John Sweeny The 863-room Westin Times Square the largest all-new hotel to be built in Manhattan in 17 years opened last month amid some speculation. The upscale Starwood-managed property (with 32 meeting rooms) debuts in a tough market widely predicted to stay that way. M&C talked to general manager, John Sweeney to find what it’s like to be the new kid on a markedly less busy block.

M&C: Some local analysts charge Starwood with delaying the recovery of the local hotel industry by growing the supply beyond the current demand. What is your response?

Sweeney: The hotel has been under development for seven years. It’s not something we can just stop. We believe the Times Square market is still a strong one, with occupancy in the mid-80s, year-to-date. Will we dilute that somewhat? Probably, but I still think there’s room.

M&C: What have you done in the way of marketing and promotional initiatives?

Sweeney: We ran focus groups across the country for meetings, corporate travel and leisure markets, and we asked them how we can separate ourselves from the competition. We reviewed marketing materials; we asked what they liked and didn’t like.

M&C: What are meeting planners concerned about?

Sweeney: One thing they are asking is, “How will the hotel treat attendees?” We have to listen to them, and we have to react to them. As the transient market declines, we have to be able to shift markets. We aren’t trying to be a huge convention hotel. We have a more intimate feel. There are only 24 rooms per floor. We want to do meetings, but we don’t want 2,000 people showing up at the same time for a meeting.

M&C: In enticing planners, are you being more flexible with room rates, catering, meeting space rental and the like?

Sweeney: I think the whole industry is more flexible. To the extent that that is the case, we will be competitive. It’s a part of the times. We accept that, and we’re ready to play. I don’t think we’re setting a standard in any one direction, but we’re going to be competitive.

• C.B.

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