Skift Take

Marriott's strategy for becoming part of a customer's entire travel journey, from booking to checkout, is tied heavily to its Bonvoy loyalty program. The more kinds of products the company offers, the more likely it will get what it wants.

Marriott wants to become a critical part of customers’ travel journey beyond the hotel experience, according to Stephanie Linnartz, the hotel giant’s global chief commercial officer.

Such a feat will be achievable through technological investment in its loyalty program, machine learning to draw insights from customer data, and select partnerships with tech heavyweights around the world to grow its business.

Speaking at the second annual Skift Tech Forum in San Francisco, Thursday, Linnartz said Marriott’s core business is franchising and managing hotels, but technology is fundamental to delivering a great guest experience — starting with its website and app.

“We want to be involved in the travel journey beyond the four walls of a hotel,” said Linnartz. “Travel is a big space. There will be a lot of winners at the end of the day. The winners will be those who think about the guest experience holistically.”

Homesharing Play Improves loyalty

On Marriott’s agenda is to offer every conceivable offering to its guests to bolster its loyalty program, which currently has 130 million members worldwide.

When the chain brought Homes & Villas by Marriott to market in April, the brand showed it would not shy away from taking on Airbnb head on. According to Linnartz, Marriott views its entry into the homesharing market as a complementary component to its core business, one that loyalty members were already gravitating towards based on company data.

After pilots run last year in four European cities (London, Lisbon, Barcelona and Rome), Marriott felt it could plug the gaps in what is usually a hit or miss experience for customers — and at times illegal, Linnartz said. Airbnb has both acquired Hotel Tonight and also launched a new luxury rental tier this week in attempts to take away market share from its new-found competitors.

“The difference [between our offerings and others in the market] is it’s branded, and we have very strict criteria about how you [properties] get in,” said Linnartz. “But the most significant difference is the ability to use Bonvoy perks.”

About 90 percent of customers booking homes & villas through Marriott are Bonvoy members. That’s on purpose, Linnartz added.

“We wanted to make Bonvoy stickier, deeper, richer, so it’s not surprising the bookings are mainly from loyalty.”

Targeting Chinese Travelers

According to Marriott, north of 40 percent of new Bonvoy signups are from China, resulting from the brand’s recently agreed partnership with Alibaba. Chinese travelers are able to book stays at all 7,000 of Marriott’s hotels worldwide through Alibaba’s travel site, Fliggy.

Of Marriott’s 30 existing brands, 23 are already available in China, where Marriott is launching about one new hotel each week, Linnartz said.

The hotel chain is also training hotels around the world to have Chinese speakers on hand, along with Chinese cuisine and newspapers in “gateway cities,” where Chinese outbound travels are going.

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Tags: airbnb, alibaba, marriott, stf2019

Photo credit: Marriott's Chief Global Commercial Officer Stephanie Linnartz (left) onstage at the second annual Skift Tech Forum in San Francisco on June 27, 2019. Skift

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