The direct booking wars are heating up.
Beginning April 11, Marriott is introducing new lower hotel booking rates that are exclusive to Marriott Rewards loyalty program members who book directly on Marriott.com, the Marriott mobile app, its call centers, and select corporate travel professionals and travel agents.
The new rates apply to more than 4,200 participating hotels around the world.
In addition to receiving the lowest-possible rate, Marriott Rewards members who book direct also have access to mobile check-in, free Wi-Fi, and the ability to earn points toward free stays. If a guest finds a better rate within 24-hours of booking direct with Marriott, the company will match it and provides an additional 25-percent discount.
“We’re rewarding our loyal members by providing a rate exclusively designed to show them how valuable they are to us,” Karin Timpone, Marriott International’s global marketing officer, said in a release. “We also want to help dispel the myth that other travel websites offer better rates for our hotels. The simple fact is that you will find the lowest rates across our portfolio when you join Marriott Rewards and book direct.”
“Member Rates is an entirely new rate category available on our direct channels, which is lower than any other publicly available rate,” Timpone tells Skift. “It follows on other new and enhanced program benefits we have launched recently, such as Cash+Points and Points Sharing. Our members are passionate about travel and we want to fuel their passions with truly meaningful perks and benefits.”
This new rate by Marriott is just the latest move by large hotel companies like Marriott and Hilton, both of which are angling to take back market share and revenue that is going to third-party travel sellers such as online travel agencies (Expedia, Booking.com, and Priceline) and, in some cases, travel agents.
At the time, when asked if Marriott would launch a similar campaign, Drew Pinto, vice president of distribution strategy, systems, and intermediary channels for Marriott International told Skift, “We prefer not to comment on what a competitor has decided is best for their business. As we mentioned, direct channel growth is a strategic priority for Marriott, and we will continue to evaluate and introduce benefits that we believe will be most valuable to our guests.”
From the looks of this push, it seems that Marriott is making its own moves, too.
Last year, both Marriott and Hilton negotiated for the right to lower commissions. Since last year, Marriott has been publicizing those rates, saying that if a guest finds a lower rate elsewhere, Marriott will match that rate and give the guest an additional 25-percent discount.
In August 2015, Marriott International launched a new digital campaign to publicize these rates. It included a YouTube video series starring YouTube star Grace Helbig, called “#itpaystobookdirect” and developed by the Marriott Content Studio. The spots used humor to demonstrate the benefits of booking directly with Marriott, and placed Helbig in a variety of situations where it makes more sense to be direct. Since the campaign launch, Marriott’s six videos with Helbig have had some 7 million views on YouTube.
Whether or not this new push will have an accompanying marketing campaign equal to, or greater than what Marriott did last summer has yet to be confirmed, but it appears Marriott is working on something.
Timpone says, “To support Member Rates, our marketing team will deploy a campaign that gets the word out to existing members as well as reach new customers. Our goal is to make customers aware of our direct channel benefits at all touch points, whether they are online or offline.”
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Photo credit: An image from Marriott's "#itpaystobook direct" campaign from last August. YouTube / Marriott International