Marriott International sold over $1.8 billion worth of room inventory on mobile last year, representing 19% of total digital revenue, which is up from 1% in 2009.

Last week, Marriott announced the next phase of its digital strategy involves mobile payments, beginning with Apple Pay this summer at a dozen U.S. hotels spread across different brands ranging from Courtyard by Marriott to Ritz-Carlton.

According to George Corbin, SVP digital at Marriott International, he says the introduction of mobile payments was a natural next step in Marriott’s digital evolution, and the process of introducing the Apple technology was fairly straightforward. The bigger picture, he emphasizes, revolves around Marriott creating a fully integrated mobile strategy to deliver a seamless digital user experience throughout the entire guest journey.

Presently, Apple Pay is offered only on iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3, and soon Apple Watch for use in U.S. retail locations. Marriott will partner with other mobile payment providers as those opportunities make themselves available, which have been relatively slow to develop across the e-commerce industry.

“I would never bet against Apple in their ability to create a new consumer behavior,” suggests Corbin. “Mobile payment is one of those areas that has struggled a bit to get its feet under it, but I think the real difference this time is Apple itself. They are relentless about creating a very smooth and intuitive user interface, so if ever there’s a chance for mobile payment to enter the mainstream, I think this is it.”

When Marriott kicks off the Apple Pay functionality, guests will use their devices to pay at a digital reader located in the reception area, so a Marriott associate will be close by if necessary. For Marriott Rewards customers, if they designate Marriott’s loyalty program credit card as the primary card for Apple Pay, they will earn points anywhere Apple Pay is accepted.

Marriott completely overhauled its brand.com site in 2014 with a responsive design to make it device-agnostic, which Corbin says resulted in an immediate uptick in mobile sales. With the web platform and the Marriott app fully mature, Marriott also focused on the digital hotel stay experience with the full roll-out of mobile check-in/check-out and room ready notifications last year after a long initial test phase.

More digital experiments are presently under development, but Corbin told us Marriott is not ready to disclose.

“We have done a lot of research where we try to identify those moments in the customer journey where we can have the biggest impact on making a customer’s trip easier and more simple,” he explains. “So we delve into thousands of customer communications to find what we call the ‘halo’ moments in the guest journey, which have a disproportionate impact on their likelihood to return and on a specific metric we use called “intent to recommend.”

total digital revenue share 2008 to 2014

The Digital Journey

Somewhat surprising, the adoption rates at Marriott for all of this new technology are not skewing heavily toward younger guests as common perception suggests. Rather, it’s a matter of guest psychographics split between traditional guests who want personal interaction with hotel associates and the so-called “invisible travelers” who want to be left alone.

“Many people still want the human touch regardelss of age, and we have over 85 years of experience of hosting people so that’s not going away,” says Corbin. “We have other guests who frankly don’t want to be bothered. They just want to get right up to their room. They want to make sure when they’re at the airport, or they’re on the road, that their room is ready and waiting for them. They want that assurance. However, we’re seeing a really big shift in the adoption rates because there are a lot of people moving over to these services.”

Corbin asserts that none of this happens in a vacuum. Hotel operations is equally involved in pre-launch development for any and all digital initiatives, and none of this works if the hotels aren’t ready to handle the volume and nuances of the techology.

Likewise, he explains, there’s always significant discussion about proof of concept within Marriott corporate across different divisions to determine whether or not any new technology is justified in the first place.

“Our mantra has always been that we have to have flawless execution throughout the entire guest journey, so we’re much more focused on how all of the parts are going to work together,” says Corbin. “Not just that the technology is cool. Not just that the app works. Instead, it’s about the problem that we as an industry are trying to solve, and that is getting the customer smoothly and seamlessly to their room. It’s not just seamlessly navigating an app.”

Participating hotels accepting Apple Pay this summer include:

  • The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park
  • The Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C.
  • EDITION Miami
  • JW Marriott Chicago
  • Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel
  • San Francisco Marriott Marquis
  • San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront
  • New York Marriott Downtown
  • San Jose Marriott
  • Courtyard Chicago Downtown/North River
  • Courtyard Los Angeles L.A. Live
  • Residence Inn Los Angeles L.A. Live

Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at go@skift.com.

Photo Credit: EDITION Miami will be one of the Marriott test properties accepting Apple Pay this summer. Marriott Hotels