Marriott International is unveiling a new online destination travel platform today called Marriott Traveler, beginning with content about local New Orleans experiences like dining on gumbo z’herbes at Dooky Chase’s.
Chicago and Orlando travel sections are scheduled to load soon, which together with New Orleans will combine for over 300 pieces of content from a wide range of sources. Following that, more domestic and possibly some international destinations will begin to build out the website through the rest of 2015.
Created by the new Marriott Content Studio launched in December, Marriott Traveler is designed to eventually become one of the brand’s primary online content hubs, integrating travel media across dozens of different channels.
At Marriott HQ in Bethesda, the Content Studio crew brainstorms with remote writers, photographers, videographers and other media outlets to develop stories for Marriott Traveler. Marc Graser is the new editorial director, leaving his post of 13 years as senior editor of Variety.
David Beebe, VP, global creative & content marketing at Marriott International, emphasizes that the goal here is not for Marriott to create a lot of the content in-house, but rather primarily to sidestep agencies and partner directly with travel and entertainment content creators considered experts in their specialized fields.
Beebe adds that Marriott, in effect, is already a media network. Marriott.com has tens of millions of visitors a month, combined with 45 million Marriott Rewards members engaging with the brand online, and in-room TV programming at over 4,000 hotels. He says Marriott Traveler is just one more way to activate that network by highlighting cool travel options around the hotels and improving SEO for all of Marriott’s brand.com sites.
The strategy behind Marriott’s content production, patterned after companies like GoPro and Red Bull, revolves first around building robust communities around different types of content to create engaged audiences in different markets. Of course, that only works if the content can stand on its own merits in terms of quality, viewership and sharing, independent of the brand.
“Our global content marketing strategy is built around what we call a ‘3C’ strategy—the first one being content, the second one being community, and the third one is commerce,” says Beebe. “So all of our content fits in sort of two categories, where it either informs people or entertains people. The idea is that as a brand, we provide entertainment and build a relationship first, and then we look at a sale afterward.”
Presently, the only Marriott call-to-actions at Marriott Traveler are the booking engine in the footer and a link in the nav bar. There are also some posts labeled “sponsored” that are integrated into the lower half of each category landing page directing users to the 23 New Orleans hotels on Marriott.com.
Content creators for Marriott Traveler’s launch include local New Orleans freelance journalist Wayne Curtis, who writes about cocktail culture for The Atlantic, as well as travel pieces for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, among others. If you’re looking for the best places to go for handcrafted cocktails in New Orleans, a good Sazerac in plush surroundings, or dive bars that serve to-go drinks in hollowed out pineapples, Curtis has definitely done his homework.
That type of insider content should do well because it’s high in demand, and it’s written by someone who’s qualified to produce it. That’s also the kind of content that makes you consider clicking over to a travel booking provider.
“We want to connect with people before they go on a trip, or even before they’re thinking about going on a trip to inspire them to travel,” says Beebe. “That’s really our goal, and ultimately to get them to book at one of our hotels.”
Marriott also tapped travel vlogger Sonia Gil to access her 110,000 subscribers on YouTube. She produced a video for Marriott Traveler about voodoo culture in New Orleans that opens with the always chipper Gil bouncing out of the new AC Hotels by Marriott Bourbon property. The voodoo video is one of three she shot in New Orleans, and Gil is also producing video series for Orlando and Chicago.
The Push to Video
Marriott Content Studio is moving heavily into video by partnering with other major YouTube influencers such as Louis Cole and the Vagabrothers, and it’s developing its own small film productions as well. Some of that could eventually be pulled into Marriott Traveler as the website grows.
The What’s Trending media group, for example, reaches 171,000 subscribers who follow pop culture trends. What’s Trending host Shira Lazar worked with five popular YouTube vloggers, including Cole, to produce a series of whimsical videos about local travel experiences in Marriott destinations around the world, ranging from paintball in San Francisco to kung fu classes in Shanghai.
Each video then ends with one of the primary cast members providing a short description about Marriott mobile check-in, and how it gives travelers more free time to do the kinds of things the vloggers are doing.
Marrriott’s new Two Bellman short film has over 2.78 million YouTube views since launching less than two weeks ago on March 10. Co-produced with Substance Over Hype and directed by Daniel “Malakai” Cabrera, the campy flick centers on two valets adept at parkour and parking who go beyond the call of duty to foil an attempted art heist at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live
Regarding Beebe’s statement that Marriott content is designed to entertain and/or educate, Two Bellman is decidedly the former. However, there is the subtext running throughout the film that Marriott and its employees understand the importance of the little things that take hotel service to next level. It’s not the point of the film, but it’s there.
While too early to confirm, Beebe says discussions are underway about potentially developing Two Bellman into a series of films shot at Marriott brand properties around the world.
Presently, Marriott is distributing Two Bellman through in-room television, the JW Marriott brand.com site, and Marriott’s YouTube channel, which showcases the full breadth of Marriott Content Studio’s video production. That includes The Navigator Live half-hour TV show highligting Rennaissance Hotels programming, produced in collaboration with the AXS TV cable channel founded by Mark Cuban, AEG, Ryan Seacrest Media, Creative Artists Agency and CBS.
“As a brand, this is really the new way to connect with consumers,” says Beebe. “Consumers aren’t interacting with interruptive marketing, meaning 30-second spots, banner ads or anything that interrupts an experience. So this is our way of saying, in order to be relevant and engage with a Millennial audience, we need to stop interrupting what they’re interested in, and become what they’re interested in.”
Greg Oates covers hospitality and tourism development. Email him at [email protected]