Home Personnel Profile Nicholas Lakas Is in His ‘element’ at Starwood Hotels & Resorts

Nicholas Lakas Is in His ‘element’ at Starwood Hotels & Resorts

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Name: Nicholas Lakas
Title: Director, element Hotels
Number of years with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide: Four.
Work experience prior to current position: Lakas previously worked for Westin Hotels and Resorts as the director of portfolio management and as part of Starwood’s Strategic Planning Group. Prior to working for Starwood, he worked as an investment banker for Credit Suisse Boston in San Francisco.

Primary responsibilities: “I oversee the overall direction and development of the element brand.”

What he likes most about his work: “The overall element project itself and to have had the opportunity to be part of developing a new brand from day one. It has been very rewarding.”

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y.—Being in the right place at the right time is one thing. Creating the right place at the right time is another. That is what Nicholas Lakas and his team at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide have done with element, a brand extension of Westin Hotels & Resorts.

Less than 11 months ago, Starwood unveiled element, its new extended-stay hotel brand. Today, 13 deals have been signed and, according to Lakas, 75 total deals are in the active pipeline. The first element will open in July 2008 in Lexington, Mass. Other 2008 openings are planned in Las Vegas; Irving, Texas; and Hanover, Md.

Lakas is excited to be part of the launch of element, a brand that is sure to change how other companies view the extended-stay segment. It is fair to say that element is a green hotel brand and one that could easily become the fastest growing product in the green lodging niche.

“We are extremely proud of the work we have done on element,” Lakas says. “We have taken an absolute fresh approach to the extended-stay space.”

Unique Design Approach

Many features make element unique. First is its design. It is very modern and encourages guests to connect with the hotel’s natural surroundings. A multistory window-wall will flood element’s lobbies with natural light. Inside the lobby, a water feature will help create a calming effect for harried travelers.

“When we were developing this brand, we did a lot of studies,” Lakas says. “When you look at human nature, people always gravitate toward natural light—in the lobby and in the guestroom. It provides a connection back to nature.”

Throughout each hotel, many steps will be taken to conserve energy and water, and reduce waste. The natural lighting will help but compact fluorescent light bulbs and LED lighting also will be implemented to achieve significant energy savings. Dual-flush toilets in each guestroom and public restroom will reduce water consumption. Low-flow faucets in guestroom bathrooms and low-flow showerheads will further trim water usage.

Whereas some luxury-level hotels have struggled to find a showerhead that provides a five-star shower experience, Lakas says his team has found one and it will be implemented in each element property.

“We want to make sure that we are environmentally responsible without impacting the guest experience,” Lakas says.

Waste Reduction Emphasized

Each guestroom will feature recycling containers and dispensers will be used in bathrooms instead of amenity bottles. Cleaning supplies will be non-toxic. To ensure superior indoor air quality, all element hotels will be 100 percent nonsmoking and low-VOC paints will be used. Carpeting with up to 100 percent recycled content will be purchased. Disposables in the breakfast area will be replaced with china, glasses, and silverware. Starwood is currently developing an interactive education program for its guests to help them understand the importance of protecting the environment.

Lakas says hotel developers have become more interested in green hotel building in response to consumer trends and as programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program have taken root. Current element developers intend to pursure LEED certification.

“We are trying to get in front of these trends and take a proactive approach,” Lakas says. “There is a tremendous first-mover advantage. As others catch up to us, we are always thinking of what we can do next.”

Years after getting his start in the hotel business while working in Ontario at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites as a 15-year-old, Lakas finds himself in the middle of a movement that is beginning to transform the entire lodging industry. He is certainly in the right place at the right time.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

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