Senior Vice President, Design & Innovation, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Mike Tiedy, unpacks what makes Starwood’s W brand so special.

W Hotels redefined the traditional resort experience when it introduced W Retreat & Spa in the Maldives in 2006. W Retreats — of which there are now four — are different to the average resort because they create unique experiences through music, fashion, design and cocktail culture.


For all W Hotels, we have authored a unique process called the Design Narrative. Whether the hotel is in an urban centre or a retreat setting like W Maldives, the Narrative process creates a purposeful point of view through which all design is directed. The location, of course, plays a unique role in the design of a resort: the historical context of the destination, the physical attributes of the local environment, important landmarks and even the social context of the people, culture and neighbourhood influence the Narrative. The physical influence is probably the most obvious factor because it will shape the architecture and physical form of the building.

Room design is the most personal part of a scheme because this is where a guest will typically spend the most time.  Of course, it is a mix of functional and experiential design. We’ve introduced innovations beginning with the signature W bed and the Munchie Box — a reinvention of the traditional minibar. The emphasis is on providing interesting and local retail products, snacks and other items that will make a guest smile.

On the experiential side, the room for each W Hotel is another opportunity to be inspired by the Design Narrative. Looking across the different properties, each is interpreted through the interior design, materials, colour, graphics, photography and styling to bring each story to life.

For W Retreats, we strive to create the best design team for the job rather than seek out star architects. It is less about the name and more about the story we are trying to tell. We do not look to hire a particular architect or designer based on their style, but instead focus on how the talents of that individual can help drive the vision of the hotel.


We have aggressive environmental goals across all our brands and are targeting a 30% reduction in energy use per available room and 20% decrease in water consumption by 2020. For a new retreat, these factors weigh heavily on the design decisions. During the planning stage, we try to minimise environmental impact. We stress local materials and look for opportunities for local and regional sourcing or partnerships. Our process drives a deep investigation into the social context and culture of the location, societies and people. Often we find insights that can help create efficiencies or influence the materials used within the hotel.


Despite the Global Financial Crisis, Starwood is positioned to grow faster than our competitors and our lifestyle brands and luxury portfolio are our competitive advantage.

Elite travellers are traveling more often, further and staying longer. Globalisation has meant there are now more travellers and more emerging markets. Gen Y, for instance, as a group, is faster-growing and younger than previous emerging groups. Gen Y is brand savvy. In terms of design, this means the appreciation for brands is growing along with the demand for technology, service and sustainability — the other big draw cards for Gen Y.

With the GFC, there has certainly been an emphasis on accountability and efficiency in the building and design process. We are able to deliver this through the Starwood system, the Design Narrative process and with 42 W Hotels complete, we certainly now have the experience to design smart and operate efficiently.


Our drive is to exhibit our brand DNA and story through the design of the hotel. This means we have a set of experiences we seek to unfold, not a set of things. Our processes allow for flexibility because we are not a cookie-cutter brand.

I think good brands will always try to extend into other areas. Our advantage is that we are a hospitality company first. We have the experience, systems and knowledge of the hospitality business. By creating lifestyle brands, we focus on different consumer segments to capture the wants and needs of specific segments by building on our knowledge of what a great and unique experience is.

W was one of the first hotels to embrace the fashion industry through initiatives like designer uniforms by Michael Kors and LAMB; an exclusive wrap dress for our Munchie Boxes by Diane von Furstenberg; and an ongoing sponsorship with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week that has spanned over 13 seasons.

We were also the first hotel brand to appoint a Global Fashion Director and through our ongoing Fashion Next program, to support emerging fashion designers around the world.


Travellers today require all the comforts they would get at home, regardless of the location. Each Retreat has modern amenities including a state-of-the-art fitness centre, wireless internet and in-room entertainment systems. We have partnered with Bliss Spa for bathroom amenities and have bought in lifestyle retail products.  Guests also expect more these days and we design W Retreats to deliver on these expectations. Most importantly, we deliver an experience. That experience is created by drawing on the destination to provide inspiration — mixing local influences with the W Hotel attitude, where anything is possible and guests can escape and play on their own terms.

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