Prior to the merger with Starwood Hotels, Marriott Inc’ luxury portfolio included three brands led by the very well defined timeless luxury The Ritz-Carlton, the understated sleek EDITION which was a result from a partnership with Ian Schrager who founded the highly successful Morgans Hotel Group which he sold in 2015, and JW Marriott comprised mostly of ‘upgraded’ Marriott branded properties.
Following the merger with Starwood Hotels, Marriott International‘s portfolio more than doubled to include St Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels and Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts, which is operated in partnership with Italian jeweller Bvlgari.
While, The Ritz-Carlton, St Regis, Luxury Collection and Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts are undoubtedly of a luxury standard, not the same can be said about the rest of the portfolio which is more ‘five star’:
EDITION – each hotel is a ‘copy/paste’ of the other in terms of the aesthetics of accommodations which is best described as an understated interior design, however some properties such as the London EDITION boast some of the smallest ‘luxury’ rooms in central London, thus eliminating itself from the city’s top 10 luxury hotels. Also, EDITION Hotels are strikingly similar with Ian Schrager’s Public Hotels, an ‘affordable luxury’ hotel concept, which is obviously a much cheaper option for hotel developers / investors.
The success of the EDITION brand has so far been relying on its F&B offerings and the distinct public spaces, especially the lobbies which offer lounge type ‘working spaces’ including even a station of Mac Apple desktop computers for the complimentary use of guests. The customer profile is also varying from property to property, not necessarily made of up Millennials but also comprising a corporate travellers base of an older age who were seeking a more affordable corporate hotel offering with an edge.
The EDITION brand provides a cheaper investment version compared to The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott, i.e. the JW Marriott South Beach Singapore being entirely designed by minimalistic interior designer Phillippe Starck.
It seems EDITION is such an important brand for Marriott Intl that all brand communications is entirely externalised and is handled by Purple PR globally. Probably all these reasons have contributed to the first de-flagging of an EDITION property – Istanbul EDITION, less than 5 years from the launch of the EDITION brand (2011).
W Hotels is a brand developed by Starwood Hotels but never ranked as luxury until the merger with Marriott. It is the most profitable among the ‘luxury brands’ portfolio because it has the lowest investment requirements a relatively flexible location requirement (W Barcelona is 20 mins by car from the city centre) and an interior design which can be entirely locally sourced, hence the lower quality which ages much faster. Also, many of the first opened W Hotels properties, especially those in the U.S. are very dated and require renovation – which obviously is up to the owners to decide.
In terms of design, there is no coherence – some properties boasting a more understated contemporary luxury (W Doha) in contrast with the ultra-bling and ‘striking’ colour palette like the former W Dubai which is now a Hilton.. Some properties are located within ultra modern offices type buildings with no windows opening (W London, W Barcelona) while others are within heritage / classic buildings (W Amsterdam or the upcoming W Budapest which generated an outcry from locals given the iconic status of the former ‘Ballet Institute’ building which will directly complete with the ‘bohemian’ to say the least, Buddha Bar Hotel, Budapest (which surprisingly features higher quality furnishings)
Even the most successful W Hotels barely rank among the top 5 luxury hotels of any city they are present on Tripadvisor. The lower investment costs are also given by the fact that W Hotels boast the smallest rooms among the luxury portfolio of Marriott Intl, except Luxury Collection – with some of its heritage hotels ‘allowed’ to include smaller rooms because of the configuration of such buildings which are often protected.
W Hotels has been recently facing strong headwinds from very strong competitors which have a much better reputation and a better defined offering such as the sbe portfolio (especially Morgans), Two Roads Hospitality (Hyatt), Andaz (Hyatt), Curio (Hilton), Nikki Beach Hotels. W Hotels are often criticised by the lower quality of service is meant to be compensated by all things WOW- live music, pools, retail boutiques (usually stocked with unknown fashion brands).
JW Marriott Hotels comprises mostly of ‘upgraded’ Marriott branded properties which had a smaller room count (although JW Marriott Dubai is a giant property with 1608 rooms and suites), more central locations and better food &beverage dining offerings Initially, very few JW Marriott properties had a Spa – I am not sure if today at least half of the hotels in operation include a Spa.
The vast majority of the JW Marriott Hotel properties are in urban locations and are mostly considered as ‘business hotels’. From an aesthetic point of view, JW Marriott can vary from a minimalistic approach such as the property in Singapore, a typical Novotel or Mercure style in Bucharest (actually the Mercure Hotel downtown Bucharest reflects much higher quality furnishings) or an Indian inspired (Rajahstan) interior at JW Marriott Jaipur. Therefore owners / developers may even consider a W style hotel. To add to the confusion about the inexistent DNA of the JW Marriott brand, they are now also opening resorts.
The Ritz-Carlton remains the undisputed leading luxury brand of Marriott Intl. Inc, with 100 properties currently in operation and 41 under development. Marriott Intl Inc describes it as ”setting the standard for rare and special luxury experiences the world over. From Bahrain to Bangladesh; Kapalua to Kuala Lumpur, the Ladies and Gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton are proud to create a stay so remarkable that a guest will remember the experience forever. The Ritz-Carlton enjoys a global reputation for its award-winning luxury hotels, residences, golf courses, spas, and restaurants”.
The only two weak points of The Ritz-Carlton brand among some of its properties is the ‘five star’ F&B offering at some its properties, especially those that have only one restaurant which is also all day dining like for example, The Ritz-Carlton Istanbul, and the fact that a third of its properties boast a ‘well-maintained’, yet dated interior design.
The Ritz-Carlton is the only Marriott Intl Inc luxury hotel brand which is still in the competitive set of Shangri-La, Sofitel, Raffles, Fairmont, Waldorf Astoria, InterContinental or Kempinski, but no longer in direct competition with higher ranked luxury hotel groups such as Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Dorchester Collection, Oetker Collection and Park Hyatt.
One downside is the fact that all marketing communications are divided by regions and each Luxury Brands team handles all the luxury brands of Marriott Intl Inc although The Ritz-Carlton brand would require a dedicated PR / Communications team like the Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts, the communications of which is being exclusively handled by a team based at the Rome headquarters of the Bvlgari Group.
The recently launch of the Ritz Carlton Yacht Collection is a brilliant move for the brand which aims to bring its ‘land expertise’ to the sea. However, due to poor communications, it is not yet clear what the entertainment offering on board will be, considering that there will be no casinos or shopping but also the fact that with a limited number of such mega-yachts which can be chartered exclusively by one customer the question is how they will be able to stick to a calendar and schedule of certain cruises and itineraries.
The Luxury Collection is among the very clearly defined luxury brands of the portfolio, Marriott Intl describing it as ”offering a gateway to the most exciting and desirable destinations. From legendary palaces and remote retreats to timeless modern classics, The Luxury Collection includes the world’s most prestigious properties. Each hotel and resort is a unique representation of its locale and a fusion of impeccable luxury service and captivating, authentic experiences”. It includes 109 properties and 29 properties in a development process. It is also an ideal choice for owners and developers of classic properties who are only seeking a franchise agreement which is a gateway to Marriott Intl & Starwood combined giant loyalty program.
When it comes to St Regis, the similarities with The Ritz-Carlton are too obvious to be twisted in sophisticated descriptions such as ‘renowned for its rich legacy dating back to 1904 and for its tradition of innovation and commitment to impeccable service’. The confusing similarities go beyond branding communications for investors / developers, given that the required investments are very similar to The Ritz-Carton, less awareness than The Ritz-Carlton (also due to the size of the chain), and the only distinctions being the fact that, if a certain city already has a Ritz-Carlton, the only other very similar choice is the St Regis as well as the fact that St Regis has a traditional association with polo.
The fact that among the presently operated 43 St Regis Hotels around the world there are 4 designer suites, this can hardly be a differentiating factor: Bottega Veneta – only one in Florence (the one in Rome seems to have been scrapped following recent renovations – while it still appears on the website it never shows availability), Bentley (Istanbul & New York) Dior (New York), Tiffany (New York). Park Hyatt Chicago also has a Bottega Veneta suite, The St Regis has 26 properties under development.
To add to the confusion developers and investors might face when evaluating the brand propositions of Marriott Intl’s luxury portfolio, the ‘upper upscale’ brand of Westin includes properties such as Hamburg and Milan which can easily rival W Hotels and St Regis respectively. Obviously, a Westin Hotel requires a much lower investment than any of the luxury brands.
The recent over-night de-flagging of Dubai’s luxury multi-brand complex which comprised St Regis, W Hotel and Westin (owned by Al Habotoor) with Hilton taking over in a matter of days, is just a recent example among very likely such future fall-outs , which are a result of the monster company which the Marriott / Starwood Hotels merger has created, which can no longer rely only on its vast combined loyalty program, especially considering the slowly but surely deterioration of the DNA of each of its luxury brands.
Months after a controversial re-branding of its hotels at Al Habtoor City Marriott to Hilton, owner Al Habtoor Group has said they are on track for “considerable growth”. The company announced it would be ending a management deal at the development, which includes three luxury hotels with nearly 1,600 rooms, 18 food and beverage outlets and 34 meeting spaces, with Marriott in July.
The St. Regis Dubai, W Dubai Habtoor City and The Westin Dubai Al Habtoor City were subsequently reflagged Habtoor Palace – LXR Hotels and Resorts, V Hotel – Curio Collection by Hilton and Hilton Dubai Al Habtoor City respectively.
No reason was given for the change but Marriott’s CEO President and CEO Arne Sorenson last month described it as “economically logical” and said Habtoor had a “different vision” to the hotel company’s own for the complex, which also hosts the 1,300-seater LA Perle by Dragone aqua show (Dubai’s version of Cirque du Soleil)
Al Habtoor Group said in a statement on Sunday it was forecasting “considerable growth in its results and a positive forecast compared to the same period last year”.As the year end nears, Al Habtoor City’s hotels are witnessing a very healthy increase in the business ahead of the upcoming holiday season and the first half of 2019 in comparison with the same period of last year, with a double-digit growth in the occupancy rates,” the company added.
Al Habtoor Group founding chairman Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor said he was pleased to see the five-star complex “on the right trajectory”.
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