Management smugness can doom any company to falling behind. So it's reassuring to see hotel giants like Marriott International make innovation efforts and guest feedback more visible and central.
Marriott International has literally elevated its design work in its new head office, considering that its innovation lab at its previous headquarters was in the basement. At the company’s just-opened headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, workers have already begun testing new guest room designs, food offerings, and operational equipment in an airy space on the fourth floor.
“The team is energized because this space has natural light and is purpose-built,” said CEO Anthony Capuano during a preview tour. “They have a lot more at their fingertips.”
On Monday, workers in the design lab were playing with fixed and moving panels set on overhead tracks that could be quickly reconfigured to illustrate floor plans.
“What excites me about the space is the ability to bring select Bonvoy members and franchises into the space to get their feedback on prototypes,” Capuano said. “We could play around with new furniture configurations, for example.”
The Marriott hotel adjacent to the Bethesda headquarters will feature, by year-end, room prototypes for the company’s leisure, select-service, and premium brands.
“For the first time, we’ll have up to 13 live prototype guest rooms where we’ll have guests giving us actual feedback, rather than having to wait to deploy the designs to see how things go,” said Erika Alexander, global officer, global operations.
It’s rare for hotel brands to have guests stay overnight in test guest rooms. Hoteliers more commonly open full properties as new models, inviting franchisees and guest feedback. Marriott’s old testing facilities didn’t have plumbing and weren’t zoned for housing guests.
One challenge the company’s designers are tackling is the rise of blended business and leisure trips.
“We’re looking at how we can make a space transformable,” said Jeff Voris, senior vice president, global design strategies, who oversees the lab. “So it’s an office when you want it to be and a bedroom when you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be both at the same time.”
At Marriott’s new headquarters, which officially open September 19, the company has also opened an enormous test kitchen, where chefs and mixologists experiment with recipes, preparation methods, and equipment and also host televised training sessions for properties worldwide.
Goals include sourcing ideas from the brand’s properties and consultants about how to reduce food waste and more efficiently run operations with new equipment, said Brad Nelson, vice president, global food and beverage, culinary. The company has been testing how to make non-alcoholic drinks that taste and look delicious.
The company had its old design lab since 2013. It credits the lab for helping to test internet-connected smart TVs from LG that were later rolled out across tens of thousands of rooms. Fine-tuning functionality for people who have accessibility issues, such as by adding Braille in relevant spots, was another win, spokespeople said.
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Photo credit: Marriott International's Design Lab on the fourth floor of its corporate headquarters, overseen by Jeff Voris, senior vice president, global design strategies (shown). Source: Sean O'Neill / Skift.