The swift evolution of Starwood Hotels & Resorts continues. In the past year, the company launched a new brand (aloft), bought one (Le Meridien) and conceived another (its new extended-stay product). It also continued to grow and refine its core flags: Westin, Sheraton, Four Points, W, St. Regis and others.

“It's been an evolution from a real estate company that owns brands to a brand company that owns real estate,” says Ted Darnall, president of the Starwood Real Estate Group. “We now have a more extensive brand offering and are working on more.”

After successfully launching aloft, its select service lifestyle brand that's a close relative of W, Starwood is now busy convincing developers to build the product. The company received five franchise applications in the first three weeks of January. Another five company-owned sites are also under development. The first groundbreaking will be this summer, and Starwood expects to have 500 open by 2012.

Next up is a yet-unnamed extended-stay brand that will also reflect the heritage of W and aloft. While the brand will officially launch in June, Starwood executives offered a sneak peek to potential developers during the ALIS Conference in January. The prototype for the new-construction brand has 123 suites, mostly 418-square-foot studios with a few one-bedroom units.

Public space design differs significantly from other brands in the segment. Focal point will be a breakfast area cum gathering spot. It will have an urban coffeehouse feel to facilitate an “alone together” environment favored in particular by Gen X travelers.

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