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Hundreds of the travel industry’s most technology-savvy executives will gather for our second Skift Tech Forum in San Francisco on June 27. It will take place at the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel and explore key trends and disruptions that impact revenue and drive the e-commerce and technology strategies that power retailing, distribution, and merchandising decisions in travel. Expect insightful conversations from a broad range of speakers, including CEOs and top executives from Alaska Airlines, Amadeus, Expedia, Google, Uber, Marriott, Carnival, Shiji, and Oracle.
Marriott International has been making varied investments in everything from loyalty to experiences as a means to expand its guest ecosystem, but Chief Commercial Officer Stephanie Linnartz also values the chain’s Google partnership as a way to acquire new customers.
“We have always maintained that intermediaries, such as Google or OTAs (online travel agencies), can play an important role in helping us acquire new customers beyond the reach of our existing sales channels,” Linnartz said.
Skift asked Linnartz about its Google relationship, the Marriott-Alibaba joint venture, attribute-based reservations, and how it blends high tech and high touch as a prelude to her appearance June 27 at the Skift Tech Forum in San Francisco. The interview follows below.
Skift: Given that Marriott is focusing on generating direct traffic — as are many companies from hotels to online travel agencies — how do you view your participation in Google Hotels and your partnership with Google?
Stephanie Linnartz: Marriott has a very productive business relationship with Google that is focused on enabling us to innovate and reach in-market consumers effectively. We have always maintained that intermediaries, such as Google or OTAs (online travel agencies), can play an important role in helping us acquire new customers beyond the reach of our existing sales channels.
02As Google continues to expand its travel-related offerings, we are constantly ensuring that our participation satisfies our core distribution principles. These principles are designed to strengthen our direct relationship with our customers, preserve brand integrity, and increase long-term profitability for owners and franchisees. We greatly value Google’s partnership and we will continue to strategically partner with them to cost-effectively acquire incremental, new guests.
Skift: What are you doing that’s innovative in China as it relates to the Marriott-Alibaba joint venture?
Linnartz: Launched in August 2017, the joint venture of Alibaba Group and Marriott International leverages the assets of both to understand Chinese travelers’ needs and design innovative travel solutions. In the past year, the joint venture has landed a few milestones that are crucial parts of its growing business and innovation.
Among them, wallet-free travel was enabled worldwide by rolling out Fliggy’s Post Post Pay across 1,000 Marriott hotels globally, which provides Chinese travelers with greater convenience in a way that they are more customized to.
New features and functions transformed the Marriott Storefront on Fliggy to the only Marriott International Chinese booking gateway with over 7,000 global hotel selections, customized offerings and exclusive member rates, making global travel much easier.
To complement these enhancements, Marriott International expects to certify over 1,000 hotels globally in its own “Li Yu” program, designed to provide travelers from China a warm welcome and the comforts of home anywhere in the world they may go.
Marriott International will continue investing in infrastructure to enable greater connectivity and access for loyalty programs across Alibaba platforms and Marriott International. We currently offer status matching between Fliggy members and Marriott Bonvoy.
Skift: How will attribute-based reservations change the guest experience?
Linnartz: We believe that Marriott is uniquely positioned to develop deeper relationships with travelers by delivering exceptional on-property experiences, an industry-leading loyalty program, and a growing portfolio of non-hotel offerings — including Homes & Villas by Marriott International and experiences through our Marriott Bonvoy Moments platform. We are confident that the strength of our ecosystem will keep Marriott.com and the Marriott Bonvoy app front-of-mind when customers are looking to book their stay. We are investing significantly to strengthen those direct channels because they are our most profitable channels and provide the best experience for our customers.
To remain the market leader, we are continuously improving and expanding our direct channel offerings. We offer a number of book-direct benefits for our loyalty members that drive adoption of direct channels such as free wi-fi, member rates, mobile check-in/out, mobile key and other benefits. Our new Enhanced Reservation Solution allows customers to customize their stays by allowing them to choose specific room features, including some they are willing to pay for and want guaranteed at the time of booking. Our customers love the ability to know what their choices are and have more control in selecting specific room features that are most important for their stay.
Skift: What is Marriott doing technology-wise to blend tech and the human touch at your properties?
Linnartz: Marriott is combining high tech with high touch to provide a seamless and personal experience for our guests. We are leveraging technology that enables our members to have one continuous “conversation” with us over time regardless of what channel or device they are using, whether it be while on property, with our call center agents, through our mobile app, or searching on Marriott.com.
As we have found that mobile is the #1 engagement channel across the entire travel journey, the Marriott Bonvoy mobile app is a prime example of simplifying travel, removing friction and powering above-and-beyond service at more touchpoints for our members. This includes mobile requests, wherein members may chat directly with on-property associates before, during and after their stay and receive real-time, personalized responses from our associates. This personalization piece along with serving up dynamic and relevant content is what takes our members from that initial travel inspiration to booking and throughout their stay experience.