It’s been 20 years since Hoyt Harper II answered the advertisement in The Chicago Tribune that would change the direction of his career. At the time, the Milwaukee native was working as an admissions counselor at Marquette University. “A travel company was hiring people to work in resorts,” he recalls.
The travel company turned out to be Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, and Harper got the job and left Wisconsin for the sun and beaches of Jamaica. “I’ve been traveling ever since,” he quips.
Now, two decades later, Harper oversees the entire Sheraton brand for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. But getting to this point has been a steady climb through the ranks. “My first job was director of partnership marketing,” he says. He then became head of marketing programs for Sheraton Club International. When Sheraton became part of Starwood, Harper filled the same role, worked with Starwood’s loyalty program, Starwood Preferred Guests, a year later, and then switched to brand management.
It was from 2002 to 2006 that Harper led the transformation of Four Points by Sheraton. Thanks to his success in that transformation, he was promoted to the head of Sheraton a year later, a position that would see him re-create the magic of the Four Points transformation on the company’s iconic Sheraton brand.
“I was specifically promoted to Sheraton because of the success of Four Points,” Harper says. “The mission was to revitalize the brand and rekindle the global icon.”
And that’s been the bulk of Harper’s work over the last four years as the Sheraton revitalization has sought to build consistency in the brand worldwide, as well as transforming Sheraton into a lifestyle brand in order to build on the success of its sister brands, including W and Westin.
Four years in the making, the Sheraton revitalization is a $6 billion investment. The revitalization entailed a complete overhaul of the brand’s properties. “It wasn’t a little, it was a lot,” Harper says of the changes. “Sheraton was a brand, particularly in North America, that had a great deal of inconsistency. The goal was to raise the bar in terms of what it took to be a Sheraton.”
Harper says the brand was able to learn from consumer insight and its sister brands within Starwood to create programs and services that are unique and compelling to its customers. For example, he says that the success of Westin’s Heavenly Bed taught the brand leaders that a first-rate bed environment was crucial. “We created the great bed in hospitality. It is the only bed in our category that meets AAA Five Diamond criteria,” Harper says.
Along the way, Harper says there were tough decisions to make. “We removed 65 properties, 41 in North America, which represents 20 percent of the portfolio,” he says. The brand also renovated more than 120 hotels worldwide, of which more than 100 were in North America. Today, of its 200 hotels in North America, 144 Sheratons are either new or newly renovated.
“It’s quite a transformation,” Harper says. “It’s a different physical product but equally important, we changed what is inside the hotel.”
Harper says the brand focused on creating social spaces for people to gather. He says the Link @ Sheraton by Microsoft gives people the ability to interact “face to face or webcam to webcam.”
“And because guests are spending more time in the lobbies we found the opportunity to offer food and beverage,” Harper says. That led to the creation of the Link Café.
Harper says the revitalization ultimately positions the brand for a different set of travelers. “We’ve gone from backpacks to briefcases,” he says of the revitalized brand positioning to lucrative business travelers.
With all of the changes and growth happening with Sheraton, Harper finds himself a busy man these days. He says he’s been to a lot of openings and re-openings and has been on the road a great deal over the last few years. As he’s said before, once he answered the fateful advertisement, he hasn’t stopped traveling since.