W Hotels, the luxury Marriott International brand originally conceived by Barry Sternlicht in 1998 that helped usher in the lifestyle concept and proffered it to the masses, is going in for a tune-up.
The uber-hip brand has a loyal following—why change a good thing? In an industry of shifting standards and ever-raising stakes, an unshakeable reputation is hard to come by. Institutions stay venerable by knowing what guests want. But good hotels know when times change. Better ones know when the guests do.
After 25 years, the brand is going under the knife, refreshing itself to evolve with the tastes of a new generation.
Ushering in this transformation are five new properties in Budapest, Milan, Prague, Sydney and Macau-Studio City that will connect guests to the culture, places and people around them like never before.
“One of the things we like to say we do is celebrate the ‘kinks in the system’—meaning we incorporate design moves that are subtle and unexpected,” said Audra Tuskes, VP, global design strategies, luxury segment at Marriott International. “The design of each W is driven by its local culture, flavor, history and vibe. That’s why no two Ws ever look the same.”
After years of consumer research, W’s leadership team identified what they call key “paradoxes” guiding the decision-making of millennial and Gen-Z travelers.
Using phrases like “spontaneous, yet staged,” and “familiar, yet ‘UnGoogleable,’” W and its partners developed designs suited to the world traveler seeking to socialize in aesthetically pleasing surroundings, without any negative environmental or cultural impact.
NEW VIBE, SAME SPIRIT
Upcoming projects will feature unexpected or elevated materials, color palettes and sculptural details unseen in properties of the past; W properties around the world are already feeling the changes.
W South Beach, for example, is decorated with commissioned works from local artists Pilar Zeta and Miranda Makaroff. At W Nashville, besides leatherbound elevators and overhead landscape murals, a 42-flight concrete amphitheater named “The Spanish Steps” plays host to live music in a city known for entertainment. And at the soon-to-open W Budapest, beads of light adorn the spine of the original basement arches, modernizing the past into a stylish social setting.
Taking the commitment to entertainment even further, a global partnership with French media company Cercle enables W to promote new musicians with live concerts at W hotels and cultural landmarks.
It all adds to the vision of hotels as places to eat, work and socialize; sleep, too.
“All our design briefs are based on locality and rooted in the historical, physical and social dynamics of the destination,” said Tuskes. “Gen-Z wants authenticity when they travel, and what is more authentic than enjoying a city in a thriving social scene full of locals?”
Even for a brand known for bold risks, Tuskes said it was a challenge maintaining the original spirit of the brand while moving it in this new, elevated direction. Key stakeholders had to be reassured this evolution would make the brand more relevant—culturally as well as aesthetically—not only today but tomorrow, too.
“W Hotels has always been driven by reinvention, and the pursuit of what’s on the horizon in travel and culture at large,” said Tina Edmundson, president, luxury at Marriott International. “While we’re retaining several core components reflective of our brand DNA, we’re updating our design sensibilities to be more inviting and unexpected. There will always be a playfulness to W—an irreverence—but it’s less obvious, and more cleverly woven into the experience.”
Renovations are underway of W Hollywood and W New York-Union Square to fit the bold new aesthetic direction, but the five properties opening this year are the first with it ingrained in their identity. They promise to offer the same “whatever, whenever” W swagger with a social consciousness fit for the times.
W’s first property in Hungary is built inside historic Drechsler Palace on Andrassy Avenue, a luxury shopping street and UNESCO World Heritage Site often referred to as Budapest’s Champs-Elysees.
W Budapest began construction in 2017 with architecture spearheaded by Bánáti + Hartvig Studio and interior design work by Bowler James Brindley. The hotel will have 162 guestroooms and suites, and a destination bar with views of the city.
W Macau-Studio City
Situated in the heart of Cotai, a strip of reclaimed sea-land known as “the Las Vegas of the East,” W Macau-Studio City is the centerpiece for Studio City Phase 2, a multi-complex development that includes indoor and outdoor water parks, cineplexes and state-of-the-art MICE (Meeting, Incentives, Conference and Events) facilities.
Development of W Macau-Studio City was initiated by Melco Resorts & Entertainment Limited in 2021. The hotel will feature 557 guestrooms, including 127 suites, as well as wellness facilities, a spa, fitness center, an indoor swimming pool and 11,840 square feet of event and meeting space and W’s signature in-house recording studio W Sound Suite.
Owned by Gruppo Statuto and managed by Marriott International, the hotel is located in Piazzetta Bossi, just behind the Teatro alla Scala and moments from the trendy Brera neighborhood. W Milan was led by Milan-based architects Stefano Boeri Architetti and designed by international firms Yabu Pushelberg and Studio Urquiol.
The 116-room W Milan was transformed from an original 1950s Rationalist building with a contemporary interior that looked to capture the essence of Milanese culture through the use of colors, materials and finishings. The hotel includes 14 suites and one Extreme WOW Suite, the brand’s signature take on a Presidential Suite.
A renovation of the former Grand Europa Hotel first built in 1905, W Prague will combine Old World-glamor with bold contemporary touches like a rooftop bar and hi-tech event space on famous Wenceslas Square.
Designed by Baranowitz + Kronenberg Architects, the historical elements of the former hotel will be connected to a new oval-shaped extension to house 154 guestrooms and suites.
Construction began in 2018 on what is set to become the largest W Hotel in the world—a curvilinear, sail-shaped building housing 585 guestrooms and suites along the shoreline of Sydney’s Darling Harbor.
This centerpiece of “The Ribbon,” a luxury retail neighborhood that runs along the waterfront, was built and developed by Grocon to feature standout entertainment, all-day dining venues and 1,300 square meters of event space in a maritime palate inspired by the area’s nautical history.
Story contributed by Derek Herscovici.