Industry Insiders: Eva Ziegler, Hotel Brand-Aid

If we start making a list of excellent career choices, Eva Ziegler may have to play role model right at the top. The Austrian-born marketing mastermind is the “Global Brand Leader” for W Hotels and head of the global launch for Le Méridien Hotels as part of parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts. From her home base in New York, Ziegler spends her 9 to 5 working on strategic planning (establishing the Starwood brand, scope, marketing strategies, implementing design) for hotels across the globe. Arguably, the biggest perk is that her job also includes traveling to all of these hotels (from Istanbul to Bali). In a smooth Austrian accent, the charming power player makes it all look and sound effortless, in between jet-setting to exotic locations to conduct business, of course.

What’s a typical day in your job? I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day in my job, and that’s actually the beauty of the story. My job is global which means that I am on the road a lot; different locations around the world, different people to meet and different cultures to understand. So, to some extent I don’t find a real routine in my job. You can only really love a brand if you really know your product. Brand leaders are not just people who do communications and paint pretty pictures but actually set the strategic framework.

When you visit one of your hotel locations, what are some of the first things that you look for? The first impression that you have is the people. When you meet the people it sets the tone and you kind of right away know the atmosphere that awaits you. The people are enormously important to the story. Also the overall look from a design perspective. It’s a very design-led brand. The first ten minutes are critical.

Which is your favorite location and why? Overall, as a person I love vibrant, multidimensional cities. Cities that are multifaceted and that offer a spectrum of things. My dream has always been to live in New York one day so to live here is one of my dreams come true. Also I love Istanbul. I love Hong Kong. I also love creative, artsy places like Barcelona. Around the world in general, I love places that are full of life and creative potential.

Hobbies you’ve picked up while traveling? I think helicopter skiing is one of the ultimate experiences of man and nature. To me it’s like complete freedom to some extent, when your eye has complete freedom.

How is Starwood fighting against the economic downturn? On our side we see the challenge as an opportunity to some extent, because it makes you rethink everything that you’re doing. So in the end, after the crisis, we’ll actually come out stronger than when we went in. The whole idea is to own the upswing. From a W perspective, we’ve opened seven hotels this year, with four more to go this year. By 2012, we’re going from currently 33 hotels to 60 hotels. We’re building for the long term. From a Starwood perspective, we’re “painting the house.” We’ve opened 250 hotels in the last three years, we renovated another 350 hotels, so 60 percent of our total portfolio will be renewed or new. We want to be in the best shape when the economy bounces back.

Where do you stand in Le Meridian’s global launch? Le Méridien is a very different story than W Hotels. The W brand was created in ’98 from scratch by Starwood. Le Méridien was bought in ’05 with a 35-year history. We wanted to relaunch the brand and transform it into a lifestyle brand. Basically, we’ve transformed the product. From the original 130 hotels we bought, we’ve exited 40. Out of the 90 hotels from the original purchase, we’ve renovated hotels in the double digits so far. We’ve also opened another 15 hotels. Le Méridien is meant to provide art in a new perspective. The ultimate thing is that Le Méridien should become a gathering place for the creative type. As much as the W is about socializing around cocktails and the bar, Le Méridien is more about engaging people in dialogue and conversation around coffee. To re-launch a brand is not something that happens in a year, it’s a long-term project.

What’s your number-one necessity when you travel? My first necessity is running shoes, and the second is my iPod.

Dream spot for a hotel? I’ve just seen a fascinating project of transforming old oil platforms into hotels. It turns into an entirely environmentally friendly solution. The idea of sustainability and being respectful to the planet is very important to me.

Your go-to spots in New York? Balthazar for brunch; Spice Market; Café Sabarsky which is a Viennese café for whenever I’m feeling homesick. Also Macchiato Espresso Bar, Milk and Honey and Whiskey Blue at W New York.

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