archivelogo
 Do Not Disturb

michael GO WESTIN,
YOUNG HOTELIER


BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

November 17, 2005 -- Regular readers of this irregular column know that I have spent most of my hotel career at the top end of the pyramid. In other words, at the luxury tip. The past two years has seen this column extol the virtues of luxury hotels such as The Beverly Hills Hotel, the Four Seasons Chicago, the Landmark in London and many other top-tier and over-the-top hostelries.

But circumstances change. Following Hurricane Rita, my wife and I, for reasons that were not meteorological, needed accommodations in Dallas just when evacuees from Houston, Galveston and Louisiana were seeking shelter from the storm. After much finagling, we finally found a roof over our heads at a Westin. Almost immediately following, I had an unexpected overnight stay at the Westin Los Angeles Airport.

Two Westin hotels in one month? Boy, oh boy, what a thrill for a guy who worries when there are less than five stars in my lodging ledger!

Even if you haven't stayed in a Westin hotel lately, you've surely seen the chain's advertising. Heavenly Beds. Heavenly Baths. Heavenly This. Heavenly That. All of it connected and concocted by Sue Brush, a very capable marketing person, a personal acquaintance and senior vice president of a Westin Hotels & Resorts, one of Starwood's innumerable hotel brands.

Now marketing is pretty easy. Come up with a good idea and launch it. But woe betide the marketer if the product he or she is launching isn't right in the first place. I've always said you can sell someone something once, but, if it is no good, you will never sell it a second time.

In this case, however, I must admit that there really is a Heavenly Bed at Westin. The value for money part of the equation is more than fair, too. We paid $165 a night in Dallas and $109 at the Westin LAX.

We were welcomed at both hotels by amiable doormen and even more accommodating front-desk clerks. Both lobbies looked much the same: plain. The Dallas hotel has a large pub set off to the side and the LAX property has one of those boring rectangles where the guests sit across from and stare at each other while viewing the chaos behind the bar. That's never an appealing site, even at the very best hotels.

The elevators were slow and the corridors carpeted with a dull gray pattern, a badly chosen color because it showed every speck of dirt. The hotel ice machines were in their own little alcove but, as usual, the buckets provided were too large to fit under the ice dispensers. The floors were in a permanent state of semi-flood.

The accommodations in both hotels were not large, but they were certainly functional. Both rooms offered a chair; a good work area; a coffee machine that even I could master; Starbucks coffee; high-speed Internet access; and a television with all the bells and whistles: HBO, video games, the requisite number of sex films and so on.

But wait, the Westin Heavenly Bed. It has a really superb mattress. There's a sampling of six pillows, including two oblong ones that I think my grandmother called "bolster pillows." The beds were dressed in a duvet, which some people love and some people hate. I find that a duvet causes you to become overheated. Then you cast it off and start to refrigerate. Then you struggle to find where you threw the thing in the darkness. This is not a complaint, just a personal choice in the matter of hotel duvets. I don't like them.

In both Westins, the Heavenly Baths were tiny, but well-lit and functional. Both featured a sensible curved shower curtain that expanded beyond the bathtub and allowed you more room to shower. The showerheads, two of them, were manufactured by a company called Speakman and they were a disappointment. The two nasty white plastic heads were 100 percent utilitarian. I will not comment about the plain-Jane amenities and the size of the bar of soap. I wasn't expecting more although I note that Westin calls them "indulgent signature spa amenities."

For all of the millions of dollars that Starwood has asked its hotel owners to spend on the Heavenly Bath, this is the one area where more money could have been spent. Sue, take note: No more ads about the Heavenly Baths because they are not.

So, overall, what do I think now that I've been slumming it at Westin? It's a "well done" to Sue Brush for some brilliant marketing and even more kudos to the boys and girls behind the scene who delivered the heavenly parts of the product.

Westin is not a luxury brand by any stretch of the imagination, but it is great value for money and you will receive Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. Then you can use those points at a St. Regis Hotel, where you can sample my preferred way of life on the road.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.