What has been the impact of the Starwood Hotels acquisition on differentiating between the luxury brands of Marriott International?
Following the acquisition of Starwood Hotels and the decision to keep not only all eight luxury brands, but all 30 combined brands, we became laser focused on making sure all of our brands offered a clearly defined guest experience.
In regards to our luxury brands – both Marriott International and legacy Starwood – it forced us to be quite introspective. We took a close look at each brand in order to understand its DNA, evaluate its consumer base and appeal, and clearly articulate the guest experience it provided. Overall, it was a positive exercise resulting in a luxury brands group whose ultimate strength is the diversity of portfolio and product. Now, with eight luxury brands, we must be even more disciplined about keeping the brands distinct. At the same time, it also gives us the opportunity to offer our guests unique travel experiences in all corners of the world. From a business perspective, our overall portfolio of luxury brands creates a tremendous opportunity for growth because we can offer a variety of different brand experiences in one market. It is also a huge loyalty lure as with our diverse portfolio of brands and geographic breadth of distribution we now offer more options in more destinations.
How do you differentiate between luxury brands?
We have to be very conscious of what each brand stands for and what makes the guest experience unique. With this portfolio of eight incredible luxury brands, we have focused on carefully setting each brand apart by highlighting nuanced differences and leaning into specific brand touch points and product cues. We want to celebrate what is unique and distinct about each brand while also making sure our guests have the tools to select the brand that best suits their travel needs. All of our luxury brands have personalized service and superb amenities, but beyond that, we have to showcase what makes each brand stand out. For example, W Hotels offers a bold attitude, playful design and a W Insider who is truly in the know on what is happening in the destination. JW Marriott, through its partnership with the Joffrey Ballet and innovative spa treatments aimed at travelers on the go, is a leader in wellness. At The Ritz-Carlton it is all about creating indelible memories though the brand’s Ladies and Gentlemen while The Luxury Collection offers locally authentic hotels that really define their destination.
What is your view in achieving a distinct experience for each of your luxury brands?
It is incredibly important and remains a priority. The task in front of us is to clearly differentiate our brands to ensure that we appeal to the target audience. Just as important as setting all of our luxury brands apart is clear communication to consumers so they know which brand to select based on the experience they are seeking. Marriott International now offers the largest and most compelling range of brands and properties in hospitality, allowing our guests, or the travel agent, to pick the brand that best suits their travel needs. By celebrating the unique nature and individuality of every brand, we are able to provide an unmatched variety of travel experiences depending on our guests’ mood, travel intent or trip purpose — no matter whether you are traveling with your family, for business, or are looking for a once in a lifetime trip for your honeymoon.
Which are the competitive advantages of Marriott as a global leader in luxury hospitality?
We are redefining the industry, offering a truly global perspective on luxury with an ensemble of eight distinct brands that cater to the new luxury traveler. Our geographic breadth of distribution gives us a truly global perspective on luxury, allowing us to see the economies of the world shift, recognize that the next generation luxury traveler is emerging, and understand that there is a demand for different types of luxury in many new locations – all of which have been key drivers to the rapid growth of our luxury brands portfolio. Spanning all corners of the world, our luxury brands group offers a boundless network of more than 380 landmark hotels and resorts in 60 countries through The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, EDITION, The Luxury Collection, JW Marriott and W Hotels. The breadth of our portfolio is incomparable and allows us to provide an unmatched variety of transformative luxury experiences as well as surpass the expectations, needs and individual tastes of our guests. Between Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG, we now offer our loyalty members the most compelling program in the industry, providing more luxury in more places.
How has the profile of nowadays’ luxury traveler changed and how are you responding to these changes? What do customers expect from a luxury hotel?
Today’s global luxurian is moving far beyond the antiquated notion of “things” as the ultimate expression of luxury. Instead, for the ultra-affluent, unique and exclusive experiences, access and highly personalized services now represent the pinnacle of luxury. And there is no better way to get a truly one-of-a-kind experience than through travel. In addition to experiences, today’s luxury consumer is also adding the notion of personal development and transformation to their repertoire of what they want to accomplish. So what we are seeing from guests is that they want bespoke and personalized service, and they want a transformative experience. Travel is an important conduit for achieving that. That’s where we see our role. It’s a material shift in the affluent traveler — they want to take their travel experiences home in some way and they want to have it inform their lives.
Across our luxury brands we are responding by offering more authentic, one-of-a-kind, and destination driven experiences. The Ritz-Carlton, for example, is known for really immersing guests in their destination. The brand has completely evolved its design strategy so that each hotel is unique and tells a story about its locale. Through its #RCMemories initiative it even offers destination specific programming and amenities that highlight something special about the destination’s local culture – whether it is through a traditional dance performance at sunset or a bar of locally made soap in the bathroom.
Tell us more about your initiatives when it comes to digital and technology?
People want their hotel stay to reflect the comforts of their home, and increasingly this means using technology for actions such as turning up your music, switching on the lights, or adjusting the temperature of a room. In particular, the next generation has grown up in a more global and connected world, leading to a collective, increased dependency on technology and a growing desire for services on demand. Our guests want options such as mobile check-in and mobile key, they want to be able to browse in room dining options from the convenience of their personal device, and they want room ready alerts and the ability to communicate with their hotel without having to pick up the phone and call. Because of this it is more important than ever for us to lead in the digital space and further the spirit of innovation in general. I’m really excited about the ‘Internet of Things’ pilot room that we have at our headquarters office. It takes us past mobile check-in and check-out and explores new hospitality innovations. For example, there is a full length mirror that offers on demand yoga workouts as well as the ability to turn on the shower at your desired temperature by voice activations.
One of the things we want to make sure of is that tech removes the transaction from the experience so it frees up our associates to engage in a more emotional and personal way with our guests. Especially in the case of our luxury hotels, we don’t want technology to replace high touch with high tech. It has to be high tech and high touch, if you will.
What are today’s disruptors to the luxury hospitality industry?
This is a really exciting time to be in the hospitality industry because there is so much advancement, development and growth happening. I see disruption in the luxury hospitality industry coming in many forms – from the way changes in consumer behavior and demands are influencing the industry, to an increase in multigenerational travel, to services like Airbnb. And none of it is bad! I believe that competition and change sparks innovation and creative thinking. It causes everyone to raise the bar, often creating a broader and more dynamic market for the consumer. In fact, Marriott International itself is a disruptor. Through The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, for example, we are set to become the only provider of luxury accommodations both on land and sea. And through our Tribute Portfolio Homes initiative we are exploring the home sharing market.
How important is the merged loyalty program? Do you foresee and challenges?
It is incredibly important, and we spent a great deal of time making sure to get it right. The very cool part of Marriott International and Starwood coming together is that we now have more than 110 million loyalty members. Overall, the purpose of the program is to deepen the relationship that we have with our members, and now, with 30 brands and 6500+ hotels, we can do that in a more meaningful and impactful ways. Both Marriott Rewards and SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) have set benchmarks in the industry. With the new, combined program, we will not just take the best of both programs, but will raise the bar in loyalty. Our recent announcement – one set of unified benefits across Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG for members this August – was a major milestone and I’m excited about what’s to come.
You have launched The Ritz-Carlton Yachts. Do you plan similar brand expansions?
At Marriott International we are always looking for ways to push boundaries, provide our guests with new experiences, and work to identify and fill voids in the luxury travel landscape. It was in this spirit that The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection was announced, and the first of three planned luxury cruising yachts will make its inaugural voyage in February 2020. Reservations just opened to the public and right now we are focused on delivering the best possible guest experience. However, I will say that sales have exceeded expectations and we are thrilled with the strong consumer response.
Which are your most dynamic luxury brands in terms of expansion?
All of our luxury brands have incredibly strong and exciting pipelines. As I mentioned earlier, one of the benefits to such a diverse luxury brands group is the ability to offer different brand experiences in the same market. We are growing where luxury is growing – not only in well-documented luxury destinations, but also those that are emerging. I’m thrilled that JW Marriott is opening this year in Nashville, Tennessee and that we have debuted in Savannah, Georgia through Perry Lane, a Luxury Collection Hotel – as these are two cities that are really making their mark through a booming music, arts and culture scene. W Hotels just opened in Panama due to its appeal as a getaway location, and I’m excited that Egypt is reemerging as a destination for luxury travel, just in time for the opening of The St. Regis Cairo this fall. And the EDITION brand is making big waves this year, with seven planned openings for 2018, from Shanghai to Barcelona and Times Square.
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