With programming & design, W targets its social, engaged demo

BETHESDA, MD—Luxe, playful, inclusive, trailblazing, authentic. These are the words that Anthony Ingham, global brand leader, W Hotels Worldwide, used to describe the brand that’s synonymous with the idea of the branded boutique hotel, a concept that’s ubiquitous now—but two decades ago, that wasn’t the case.

“When W launched more than 20 years ago, we created a new category of hospitality—a bold lifestyle brand dedicated to playful luxury,” Ingham said. “At the time, the hotel landscape was quite static and staid, and we knew that people wanted more from a hotel stay. They wanted more than just a place to sleep at night; they wanted to be part of a scene. Today, this is still at our core as we provide innovative experiences around the world for our guests who, like W, look for what’s new and next in music, design, fashion and beyond.”

The brand leader is clear on the ways W has impacted the industry—and how he’d like to see the brand leave its mark in the future. “Since its inception, W has disrupted the hotel industry—such as changing the typical lexicon with signature offerings (including our Living Rooms and WET Decks) and becoming a place to see and be seen for not only travelers but for locals,” Ingham said. “Today, W is cemented as a global lifestyle powerhouse that offers a hotel experience with something new each time, either through our programming, our cocktail culture or our playful design. As W continues to grow across the world and refresh several of our hotels in North America, we will keep turning what a hotel stay means on its head with bold new initiatives that redefine what guests think to expect. Be it an on-property music festival or one of our curated panel discussions, the W experience is always changing.”

While a social vibe is still very much a part of W’s DNA, Ingham noted that the team has broadened the W experience and what it stands for. “W is still an exuberant and social brand but the way our guests have fun and socialize today has changed, and we have accommodated,” he said. “For example, our focus on Fuel, W’s take on wellness, and our Detox Retox Repeat philosophy—we are socializing in environments far from the bar/club scene W was originally known for. The same applies to our speaker programs like ‘What She Said’ and ‘Queer Me Out’ that encourage engagement and debate on critical social issues, and our music programs like ‘Wake Up Call’ and ‘Sound Suites’ that offer insider access to the music scene and what’s new/next. We haven’t lost our roots, but the purpose is much broader and the options to do different things are much bigger.”

“Queer Me Out” is one program that embodies W’s inclusive spirit.

A brand that really lives its ethos, W has a number of programs dedicated to inclusivity—something that Ingham is proud of. Singling one milestone out in particular, he pointed to “Turn It Up For Change.”

“We joined forces with Jennifer Hudson and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for the fight for marriage equality,” he said. “We hosted performances, a vogue ball and even shot a music video celebrating a gay wedding celebration at W Hollywood. Portions from this partnership benefited HRC and its work. A few months after the program launched, the Marriage Equality Act was signed.”

But W’s advocacy didn’t end there. “There is still much to stand up and fight for—through many programs such as our ‘Queer Me Out’ panels featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community and our Pride festivals,” Ingham said.

Similarly, W hosts ‘What She Said,’ a speaker series dedicated to female empowerment. “W’s support of diversity and inclusion is so authentic because it’s what the brand has stood for since its beginning,” Ingham said. “Our programming gives important (and, frankly, still overlooked) voices a platform to drive progress and celebrate change. This is a defining time for equality and, more than ever, communities are having meaningful conversations around the progress they want to see—it’s time for people and brands to listen. Part of being a disruptor is breaking down conventions and stereotypes on all levels—and we see that with the people who choose to come and work for W, the guests we attract and the experiences we create.”

Another passion for the brand over the years has been music—something W doubled down on late last year, when it launched a record label, W Records. “Since our beginning, one thing has been consistent: the symbiotic relationship between W and musicians,” Ingham said. “Over the years, we have supported emerging talent, provided them a place to record, distributed their music and acted as a live venue—from intimate performances in our Living Rooms to weekend-long music festivals. W Records felt like a natural next step for W and music, especially given the success of our Sound Suite recording studios. It represents a complete 360-degree approach to our innovative music programming. W Record’s inaugural class was composed of passionate, new/next talent, including Japanese Breakfast, Amber Mark, Perfume Genius and Roosevelt.”

Looking toward the future, Ingham noted that W’s growth strategy is strategic and considered. “We seek only the destinations our guests want to visit most and are not set out to be a brand with a location in every city,” he said. “W attracts a niche audience looking for the most exciting, social and modern lifestyle experiences, and we restrict our growth to only provide the right destinations for this audience. With that said, we are excited to continue our growth in some of the most enticing locations around the globe and plan to operate 100 hotels by 2025.”

This year’s additions to the brand include W Dubai – The Palm, W Muscat in Oman, W Philadelphia, W Ibiza in Spain, W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island and W Aspen, the brand’s first alpine Escape in North America.

But what of existing hotels? Many of the older properties are getting renovations. In the case of W’s founding hotel in New York City, the property has exited the brand.

“W Hotels has always been a symbol of innovative, breathtaking architecture and design. As the brand expands, our standards for our hotels grow more mature and sophisticated,” Ingham said. “The New York property will always be one we are proud of—it is at the base of our legacy—but as we gain global and local insights, each new hotel and renovation is increasingly purpose-built and there were too many limitations to what we could accomplish at Lexington Avenue.

“As part of the brand’s ongoing focus to reinvigorate its North American portfolio, W Hotels and its ownership groups are investing $200 million in renovations to showcase the next generation of W design,” he continued. “We look at an array of factors when determining each hotel’s path, but at the forefront are ensuring it matches a city’s vibrancy, showcases inspiring architecture, provides space for playful social programming and redefines the hotel experience at every turn.”

But regardless of what the hotels look like, it’s the team members who are the heart of the brand, Ingham said. “What truly defines W is the passion and dedication of our hardworking Talent (what we call our team members),” he said. “It is one thing to have a beautiful space and exciting programming, but without the people on the ground helping to make it happen, there is no magic.” HB

1998: W launched with the opening of W New York on Lexington Ave.

2001: W transformed the traditional hotel lobby into the W Living Room, creating a social hub for guests and locals through cocktail culture.

2003: The first W Hotel outside of the United States debuted:
W Mexico City.

2004: W became the first hotel brand to connect the dots between hotels and fashion by becoming a sponsor of New York Fashion Week with the introduction of the W Hotels Backstage Lounge, which lasted 13 seasons.

2006: The brand reinvented the concept of a traditional resort with the introduction of the first
W Retreat in the Maldives (W Hotels now calls their resorts W Escapes, with the most recent addition being W Dubai, which opened in 2019).

2008: W created a series of ongoing live music events (first with Wonderlust Live and then with Symmetry Live [2011]), with performances by emerging and established artists such as CeeLo Green and Janelle Monae.

It also became the first hospitality brand to have a float at the NYC Pride Parade.

2009: W became the first hotel brand to appoint a global music director, Michaelangelo L’Acqua.

2010: W appointed a global fashion director, and was the first hotel brand to do so.

2012: It became the first hotel brand partner of the CFDA (Fashion Incubator) Program.

2015: Turn It Up For Change, a campaign in partnership with Jennifer Hudson that benefited the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and supported the fight for marriage equality in the U.S., launched.

2016: Sound Suites—private music studios and writer’s rooms for musicians to record in style while on the road—launched, with the first location at W Bali – Seminyak (locations now include W Hollywood, W Barcelona and W Seattle). Similarly, W also launched Wake Up Call, the brand’s signature music festival series and the world’s first-ever music festival held entirely on the grounds of a hotel. W also introduced “What She Said,” the brand’s popular speaker initiative that celebrates femininity in all its forms, nuances and glory.

2017: W introduced “Queer Me Out,” an LGBTQ+ speaker series, bringing together leaders of the queer community from the worlds of fashion, music, design, media and politics. This year, W Goa arrived as W’s 50th property.

2018: W Records, a record label and resource for artists selected by W Hotels and their music industry partners, launched. W Records supports artists through every step of development, providing recording space, mixing and mastering and finally, distribution of the new sound via live performances, streaming and vinyl production.

Fuel Weekends also debuted. W’s fitness-focused vacation packages combine celebrity workouts, parties, delicious and healthy cuisine and adventure at W Escapes around the world.

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