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SPOTLIGHT ON Benoit Racle, Vice President Brand Management, W Hotels Worldwide

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association
3 November 2022
5 min read
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Image: W Rome

After a great deal of soul searching, W is preparing to reveal its evolved persona and expand into Prague, Budapest, Sydney, Macau – Studio City and Milan.

How have you led the brand transformation strategy and repositioned the W brand?

It’s such an incredible time for W as we unveil our new positioning and start this next chapter of our story. W has always been driven by a spirit of reinvention and a “new/next” philosophy. However, as we are now in our second decade, it is time to turn this lens inward and evolve for the next generation of luxury traveler.

Like any task of this size – one with far-reaching, global implications – we began with lots of internal work, accepting the notion of change and then aligning on what needed to evolve and what needed to remain. After all, W is an icon of the industry (and frankly, of pop culture) with a loyal, passionate fanbase, and its legacy should be respected and maintained. That is why we refer to this process as an evolution, not a revolution, and our strategy has been driven by open dialogue, checks and balances, and, above all, collaboration. 

Benoit Racle, Vice President Brand Management, W Hotels Worldwide

Over the last 18 months, we have slowly revealed internal communications plans and the rollout is now starting to be seen – through our updated logo and social media channels to new design direction at properties like W Rome and our recent music collaboration with Cercle. However,  we are not launching a full consumer-facing campaign yet. This is a strategic rollout that affects all guest touchpoints and will not happen overnight. When all the switches have been flipped, we will then formally re-introduce ourselves to the world.

W Rome

How did you identify the W Hotels consumer profile, and has this shifted in the last few years?

For the past decade, our target guests have been disruptors, known for their bold attitude and “work hard/play hard” lifestyle. However, even before the pandemic and recent cultural shifts, this notion of disruption started to feel dated. And while we have always shifted with the times – in recent years, our wellness programming became more focused on a life of balance, for example – our current brand evolution is designed to meet the needs of the next generation of luxury traveler.

You know that one friend who is the link between social groups? The one who is always first to suggest a new restaurant or travel to an off-the-beaten path city? That’s the new wave of W guests. They are the glue in their social circles and the catalyst that makes things happen. They are warmer, more inclusive and more conscious consumers that care about the world, the planet and its people – especially as they travel. Seeing the world is a fundamental part of their happiness and more important to them than tangible objects; connecting to other cultures, places and people is the new status symbol. They are the ones for whom we are reimagining the W brand.

What travel trends are influencing luxury hotels?

The biggest trends are being driven by the wants and values of the Gen Z traveler. And, unlike previous generations, to them, luxury travel is not about signaling wealth to others but rather a deeply personal experience that is driven by intent, inclusivity, and purpose. Our repositioning directly addresses these needs, particularly when it comes to individualized service and authentic design. Inclusivity has always been a pillar of the W brand – all have always been welcome – now we will double down on that by enabling better connections between our guests and talent and our guests with one another. And lastly, our “Whatever/Whenever” service philosophy remains at our core and is designed to give our guests the unique, thoughtful experiences they expect from a luxury hotel stay. 

Another trend is that travelers today want to connect with people and cultures and truly feel “like a local” wherever they are. After all, Gen Z are citizens of the world. And one thing that will always be paramount to the W experience is the way we embrace each destination. Through our repositioning, we will continue to draw from each city’s cultural and social insights in ways that are authentic, distinctive, and unexpected. 

Are you working on any projects you can share with us?

From global fashion events to our groundbreaking music programming, W is known for bringing our passion points to life for guests and locals around the world. Our reimagining work will see W embrace things not only important to us but to Gen Z: social causes, wellness, art, design, culture, music,  food and drink. We are currently in the middle of an exciting music partnership with Cercle, a French company who promotes artists and cultural landmarks through the power of music. Our collaboration includes celebrating five W destinations and, at each stop, Cercle stages one of their iconic live streams at a cultural landmark, with an in-person party at a nearby W Hotel. There’s more to come in the next few months as W will be popping up at cultural moments around the globe – but nothing I can speak about just yet!

And, of course, W continues to be driven by exciting global growth and 2023 will see the anticipated openings of W Prague, W Budapest, W Sydney, W Macau – Studio City, and W Milan.  

W Costa Navarino