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by Deanna Ting | July 27, 2015
Last week, Alison C. Taylor, the newly appointed senior vice president of the Starwood Sales Organization, met with Incentive to discuss her new role and what's next for Starwood and its meeting and incentive business. 

Taylor, who was named one of the "Top 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry" by Successful Meetings this year, replaced longtime meeting industry veteran Christie Hicks this April

"I want to continue Christie's legacy," Taylor said. "She left such a great group of leaders and she's been a mentor to me."

Having been with Starwood for the past 25 years, Taylor is no stranger to the organization and she wants to make sure the sales department continues to meet its goal, even as the company undergoes major changes. "I want to give the sales team that confidence that we're still on track," she said. She added that her global experience, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, will help "add a global element" to Starwood's many growth markets.

The changes that have taken place at Starwood this year have been many. In the spring, Hicks retired from Starwood, and in February, President and CEO Frits van Paasschen resigned. Under interim CEO Adam Aron, Starwood has expressed a desire to either merge with another hotel company, or be acquired. The latest reports hint at a possible acquisition by two of China's largest hotel groups - Plateno Group and Jin Jiang Hotels - which would make the company the largest hotel group in the world.  

"Groups are front and center to us, and we are focused on building loyalty with SPG Pro, and growing in various growth markets around the world. SPG Pro, a loyalty program for meeting and travel professionals, debuted last fall, and represented a $30-million dollar investment in Starwood's B2B business. 

"Our SPG Pro loyalty program sits at the cornerstone of our efforts moving forward," she added.  "It rewards planners for all business booked with Starwood, both personal and professional, and gives them the opportunity to enjoy all the perks of SPG elite status." 

Taylor said that in the last two months, her team has added more group sellers in industries that haven't traditionally been a focus, and "For the year, groups are bringing it home."

Taylor also noted that planners should see more flexibility in the meeting and incentive booking process in the near future. Starwood is also working on a customizable meetings app of it sown that will be used by both attendees and organizers; the app will be rolled out initially with the company's Sheraton brand.

With regard to meeting and incentive trends, she noted the following:

• "Lead times are getting shorter across the board."
• "People are spreading their wings a bit more when it comes to incentive destinations, from Russia and Bhutan to Samoa."
• "Luxury is back for incentives."
• "There are more transactions for meetings and incentives (by 8 to 10 percent), but group sizes tend to be going down."
• Meetings are becoming more innovative and A/V and technology are seen as foundational. Technology has to be built in, and there are high expectations from planners. Meetings technology has to be intuitive, easy, and simple."

Going forward, Taylor says you can expect "some changes going forward" throughout the company. "For customers, business is normal, but there is a lot going on with the organization overall," she said. "We want to expand in the mid-scale and upscale area."

As part of Sheraton's revitalization project, Sheraton 2020, a new tier or category of Sheraton properties will emerge - Sheraton Grand.  The Sheraton Grand name will identify Sheraton properties throughout the world that have elevated standards of services and amenities.