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Merging three different loyalty programs into one isn’t the only tricky technological feat that Marriott International has had to pull off following its $13.3 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
A major part of that loyalty integration involved transferring all of Starwood’s hotels onto Marriott’s reservations system which, as some industry experts have pointed out, was more outdated than Starwood’s system.
Now, however, there’s confirmation that not only will all of Marriott’s more than 6,700 properties soon be operating on the same reservations system — but they will all soon be on the company’s brand-new system that will allow the hotel company to enable guests to choose their own room, among other features.
“We do have a new reservations platform that’s rolling out this year,” Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said at Skift Global Forum in New York. “There are some additional features that I think we will push,” he added, noting the “ability to identify your room when you’re booking” and “choose more room types than you’ve been able to do in the past,” two features, he said that “have already rolled out.”
At this point, the only other major global hospitality chain that allows its guests to choose their own rooms is Hilton.
Attribute-Based Booking: A Boon for Direct Booking?
When asked if the new system would also have “attribute-based” features, Sorenson said, “Oh yes, it’ll be bed types, views, floors, all of those sorts of things that go into that.”
Attribute-based selling is a primary feature of InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) new guest reservations system, which was built by Amadeus. IHG is currently testing out this feature with just one attribute: bed types.
So, when a customer tries to book a room on one of IHG’s own channels, that customer is asked if she wants one bed, two beds, a suite, etc. and choosing a certain attribute will only show the guest combinations with that attribute.
“Attribute-based selling is really trying to get away from the one-size-fits-all concept where everybody gets the same results when they search for a room,” Iain Saxton, Amadeus senior vice president and head of the Amadeus Hospitality Platform Product Management.
Attributes can extend to more than just bed types; they can be views, balconies, distance from the elevator, bed size, etc., and encompass more than just one attribute at a time. Categorizing a property’s inventory with all those different types of attributes makes it easier for guests to get the exact type of room they want, and helps hoteliers sell other room combinations, and perhaps even find opportunities for upselling.
“You can go through this process where you can choose all these different room attributes,” Saxton explained, and “You can end up with a very personalized room and you can offer the features that are most important to people. Every room in the hotel could be completely different, and you don’t have to be grouped into like bookings anymore.”
Essentially, reservations systems like the one IHG is currently using can check off all the attributes desired by a guest and see immediately what combinations are available. It helps hoteliers better manage their inventory.
And in some cases, it might also give customers more incentive to book direct than to book a room via a third-party channel such as a Booking.com or Expedia.
Saxton explained that online travel agencies (OTAs) would initially receive a subset of attributes, such as room types, while the brand would be able to control all of the many attributes and combinations available. So, if a customer wants a specific room with specific attributes, it’s much better for that guest to book direct than on an OTA; it creates some level of exclusivity with regard to room inventory for hotel brands.
“The hope is that this increases direct bookings,” Saxton said. “You can’t offer a full range of attributes through every channel. OTAs don’t sell all these attributes. When attribute-based booking goes mainstream, I think OTAs will have to change how they sell hotel rooms.”
Marriott’s Buy, Build, or Partner Approach to Technology
Marriott representatives said that additional information about its new reservations platform won’t be available until later this year.
And while Marriott hasn’t yet divulged exactly how this new platform was built or designed, it’s likely that the company chose a partner to help it build its own proprietary system, given Sorenson’s comments at the Skift Global Forum.
“Historically, we tended to want to build,” Sorenson said, regarding Marriott’s approach to technology solutions. “We wouldn’t necessarily build only with our engineers; we might hire people who would build something custom for us. We got to a point where we thought, ‘Let’s look at the kind of system we’re talking about and if it is a utility that we need to run the hotels, run the system, what have you, but, is that really very strategic? Why should we be developing that ourselves? Shouldn’t we find a way to go out and essentially buy it off the shelf? Plug it in, probably cheaper, and we don’t need to really worry about it because it’s not strategic.’
He continued, “I think we end up in a world now where we want to do as little, in the utility space anyway, we want to do as little as possible that we have to invent but, we want to own the tools that are going to be the most strategic.”