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How the Guam Westin Became the Guam Westin

The Westin Resort Guam celebrated its 20th Anniversary last month. I wrote some stuff for their PDN anniversary supplement but my favorite part – the story of how the Guam Westin became the Guam Westin – didn’t make it to print because there wasn’t space for it. I think it’s interesting enough to share here:

In 1994, Akio Hirao was on his way to a high school reunion in Tokyo, looking forward to spending an evening mingling and chatting with former classmates. He didn’t know one particular conversation at the reunion would set events in motion that would lead to, and ultimately result in, the development and establishment of The Westin Resort Guam hotel.

“That night, I happened to meet one of my classmates who was working for Sumitomo Construction. He mentioned he was working on a major hotel project in Guam and they had a big problem,” recalled Hirao. “He told me they had finished the building–the outside exterior–but, because of a lack of funding, they were not doing anything inside.”

Intrigued by this bit of news, Hirao, who was Regional Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Westin Hotels and Resorts Japan, visited the head office of Sumitomo Construction Company in Tokyo to gather additional information and details about the Guam hotel. The Sumitomo office confirmed his classmate’s story: a large hotel, poised on a beautiful bay in Guam, sat stagnant and unfinished.

“I was told that it was to be a Leo Palace hotel and that there was difficulty in securing financing from a bank to finish the interior,” said Hirao. “You have to remember that this was during the 1990s when the Japanese economy was in financial crisis. This is why Sumitomo had to stop construction after finishing the exterior.”

Hirao sent all of the information he collected on the Leo Palace hotel to the Westin’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, who then dispatched a development team to Guam to inspect the property and report their findings. According to Hirao, the development team’s report stated that the building was “solid, very nicely done, and location was good.”

“That’s when we talked to Leo Palace,” said Hirao. “We had successfully opened The Westin Tokyo in 1994 so I think that was one of the many good reasons to convince the president of Leo Palace to negotiate with the Westin.”

Hirao recalls an arduous negotiation because of the financing that was needed to complete construction of the hotel. In the end, a partnership agreement was reached, work resumed on the interior, and The Westin Resort Guam officially opened its doors on February 20, 1997.

“I have always believed there’s a certain formula for success in business: there is timing and contact,” said Hirao.

“And, like the story of The Westin Resort Guam, I met the right person–my classmate–at the right time. Some other hotel could have taken over very easily if I had not been there in Tokyo at the right time.”

Hirao retired in 2006 as Vice President and Area Managing Director of Japan, Korea and Guam after 40 years of service with Starwood Hotels.

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