Westin opens first hotel in Panama to the tune of $100 million

Panama, ranked the number one travel destination by The New York Times and an emerging destination by pubs like Fodor’s and Travel + Leisure, has just gotten a little hotter with the opening of its first Westin hotel.

The newly-opened Westin Playa Bonita Panamá is 20 minutes outside Panama City, flanked by both rainforest and beach. The hotel boasts 611 luxury rooms and suites, six fine dining restaurants, four bars and an open-air VIP Lounge on the 19th floor, which boasts panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, rainforest and Panamá Canal.
While 600-something room hotels aren’t always our preference, it’s a great way to get a tropical escape on the calendar for a reasonable price or for a moderate number of SPG loyalty points.

This opening falls on the heels of other major hotel announcements in the fast-emerging must-visit destination, including the opening of Trump Ocean Club Panama earlier this year.

Westin rolling out new gyms

It’s time to get your workout on. Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced this week that they are revamping the fitness studios at its Westin-branded hotels. WestinWORKOUT fitness facilities at 186 Westin hotels around the world are getting new equipment and blue light therapy throughout the course of the year.

New equipment we can understand – after all, people are pounding away on the machines all day long. But the redesign stems from Westin’s in-house design team’s studies of guest behavior that found Westin guests desired a more well-rounded, holistic fitness experience, including more options for stretching, yoga and fitness classes.

To capitalize on this trend, Westin is removing select pieces of equipment that guests were not using as frequently in order to provide more floor space for these types of activities. Don’t worry, this won’t include the treadmills! Pulley machines are also being added to smaller fitness studios to further maximize space and provide a greater range of workout options.

More natural design
The custom-created design of Westin’s new fitness studio, a departure from the typical gym aesthetic, was also driven by the changing trends of how people work out. Instead of black rubber floors, the Westin design team chose to use a natural, soft-tone color palette and organic materials including textural woven flooring.

Inspired by nature, each fitness studio will also display a full-size art mural entitled “Step Up,” a reflective image of people running up a grassy hill. We’re not sure it will get us through this extra mile, but hey – it’s better than a blank wall.

Look for the blue light
Westin worked with Philips to introduce ActiViva Lighting, Philips’ new energizing fluorescent lighting, into its gym facilities. Supposedly their blue light technology positively influences well-being and will help to make guests feel more alert, awake and energized in target workout areas such as the cardio zone. Additionally, the lighting will be customized in all workout zones to coincide with the type of exercise taking place in each specific area.

More guest perks
In December 2010, Westin a partnership New Balance. The chain provides footwear, apparel and fitness program content to its guests to borrow. Later this year, the brand will also be expanding its in-room SuperFoodsRX menu items for breakfast to also include lunch and dinner options.

The gyms are currently open at Westin Jersey City, Westin Riverwalk, San Antonio, Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and the Westin Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego.

Starwood first to launch user ratings and reviews on its hotel websites

Reader-generated hotel reviews – and the sites that host them – have gotten a bad rap lately. But, it’s for a good reason. In July, TripAdvisor came under scrutiny when it was revealed that some hotels were paying TripAdvisor users to post positive reviews of their properties. There have also been concerns that hotel employees and management were posting positive reviews of their properties in order to improve their online ratings and, thus, improve their rankings and visibility.

Knowing that a few bad reviews can break a hotel, hotel companies understandably have been resistant to allow customers to post reviews on their websites. This week, however, Starwood announced that it will be the first hotel company to host reader-generated ratings and reviews on its websites. Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the parent company of such brands as Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels, St. Regis, and Le Meridien, will allow hotel guests to post both positive and negative reviews in order to provide a more honest and transparent relationship with its customers, particularly members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. In turn, potential reviewers must have verified hotel reservation confirmations in order to post a review. Customers will be able to post reviews and ratings on room comfort, staff helpfulness, cleanliness, and SPG recognition, among other factors, as well as provide context to their reviews, such as purpose and frequency of travel. Users also will be able to share Starwood reviews on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Starwood’s move to allow reviews on its websites is a way to bring more customers directly to the source rather than via third-party booking and review sites. Says Chris Holdren, Senior Vice President of Starwood Preferred Guest, “Our goal is to provide everything a guest needs to select and book their best hotel experience and there’s no better place to offer this information than on our own websites.”

Starwood makes checking in a social affair

Starwood Preferred Guest, the rewards program for such brands as Sheraton and Westin, just took “checking in” from the front desk to the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. The hotel company is launching a new program with social media company foursquare to increase member benefits.

According to foursquare’s blog, this partnership is “the first truly global loyalty integration of its kind,” an appropriate statement for a corporate blog, of course. Here’s the upside for you: when you check in (on foursquare) while checking in (at a Starwood), you can pick up more points, get free nights and win contests.

In the past, foursquare has worked with Heineken, American Express and others, but this appears to be its first foray into travel, a natural fit for a company that has built its business around location.

Westin teams up with New Balance to give travelers a reason to stay fit while traveling

It’s getting a little harder to avoid working out on vacation. Westin Hotels & Resorts and New Balance have joined forces to empower travelers to stay healthy and fit when away from home by providing New Balance footwear, apparel and fitness program content at Westin Hotels worldwide.

During a pilot program in 2010, guests of 10 Westin properties were given access to New Balance shoes and accessories during their stay to incorporate some wellness with their travel. The program was so successful, Westin is planning to roll out the New Balance offerings in all Westin-branded hotels worldwide in 2011.

“Convenient access to the proper athletic equipment and programming is vital to the traveler who wants to stay healthy and fit while they’re away from home,” said Hilary Keates, director of global marketing and brand management for New Balance. “New Balance is excited to partner with Westin to provide their health and fitness-minded guests with footwear, apparel, accessories and programming for an overall enhanced experience. As leaders in our respective categories with like-minded consumers, this alliance made perfect sense.”
Westin guests wanting to workout will get travel-specific fitness content from New Balance Fitness Ambassador and Exercise TV celebrity trainer Holly Perkins, who will develop exclusive in-room fitness and equipment-free content that includes stretching and strengthening workouts, cardio and yoga. The program includes “Wellness in Travel” tips from Holly on nutrition and creative ways to combat jet lag and healthy living. New Balance is also working with individual Westin properties to enhance its current three- and five-mile local area running maps. As part of the partnership, participating properties will provide guests traveling to a city for a major athletic event, such as a marathon, with wellness amenities, including turn-down gifts with “performance/fuel” goodies for the race and “good luck” wake-up calls.

We want to know: If given all the equipment, including shoes, would you be more inclined to workout when you travel?