As work and leisure travel blend together, hospitality brands must adapt to this new landscape and evolve to meet shifting demands. Marriott International is leveraging its wide-ranging brand offerings for corporate and meeting customers, using its strength in technology, loyalty, service, and unique benefits to support today’s business travelers.
While leisure travel has driven industry recovery to date, Marriott International is expanding its focus on today’s new era of business travel as the line between work and recreation experiences continues to blur. With 30 brands and more than 8,000 properties globally, Marriott’s wide-ranging offerings and enhancements have positioned the brand to better serve corporate travelers and meeting attendees as business travel resumes and continues to redefine itself.
Through innovation and elevated service, Marriott seeks to lead the industry into the next chapter of corporate travel by anticipating emerging trends in the space, from “bleisure travel” to technology. SkiftX spoke with Julius Robinson, chief sales & marketing officer, U.S. and Canada for Marriott International, about how Marriott is adapting to the changing corporate and meeting segment, and its future growth strategy.
SkiftX: Many travelers are increasingly combining business and leisure trips. How has Marriott adapted the types of services it offers for this blended travel?
Julius Robinson: The idea of “bleisure travel” is no longer a trend — it is here to stay. From The Ritz-Carlton to Residence Inn, our 30 hotel brands are well equipped to cater to different lifestyles, leisure pursuits, and interests, while also meeting the needs of and supporting working professionals.
We have seen an uptick in the number of guests adding on a day or two to their business trip to enjoy hotel amenities or a new city while also easing their travel by, for example, taking advantage of lower flight costs midweek. To address this demand, we have invested in technology to make the guest experience more personal and convenient and empower hotels to cater to both leisure and business travelers.
For example, properties are enhancing amenities and programming for guests who might use a conference or meeting space during the week but are seeking a day at the tennis court or pool on the weekend. Even viral trends like pickleball are now part of our guest experience, with newly introduced courts at properties like The Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa.
We’re also finding that groups want to socialize and connect with colleagues and friends through outdoor team-building options and entertainment and food and beverage activities. In response to this, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center recently opened an interactive 10,000-square-foot sports bar experience designed with the group customer in mind. Marriott also debuted a modernized look with extensive renovations at Sheraton properties in Canada that offer hybrid communal spaces for blending work and play, including Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Toronto International Airport, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Sheraton Laval Hotel and Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel.
SkiftX: Long term, how might this trend of combined business and leisure travel impact meetings and events?
Robinson: There is a renewed interest in integrating a destination into corporate group itineraries. Meeting planners are looking to our hotels to connect them with local experiences, including food and beverage, entertainment, and amenities. It’s a huge opportunity for our hotels to shine as integrated extensions and ambassadors of their communities.
It also gives our property teams the opportunity to creatively flex their muscles and showcase their respective cities, no matter the occasion. For example, Renaissance’s Navigator Program helps guests live like a local by tapping into its network of Navigators who recommend guests all of the intriguing, new, and imaginative experiences a neighborhood has to offer.
We’re also seeing business travelers bring their families with them to enjoy a vacation and take advantage of kid-friendly hotel amenities and nearby attractions all week long until mom or dad is finished with business commitments. Many businesses are now booking hotels over others based on family-friendly amenities such as a pool, childcare or kids camp programs, and perks to nearby attractions. For example, Sheraton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, which features more than 31,000 square feet of event space, has offered groups perks such as complimentary Walt Disney World Resort tickets to groups with room blocks of 50 or more.
SkiftX: What other corporate travel trends are on Marriott’s radar as we move into 2023? How is the company planning to address these new behaviors and expectations?
Robinson: Wellness is an area that we’ve focused on as a company across all of our brands, and it is especially important as physical and mental well-being continue to be at the forefront moving out of the pandemic. We’ve prioritized this, and our hotels have forged incredible partnerships in this space that add value to our guest experiences.
For example, at Westin Hotels & Resorts, the brand’s signature wellness program empowers guests to get a good night’s rest on the brand’s Heavenly Bed, order nutritious food from the brand’s Eat Well Menus, and participate in fitness programs like RunWESTIN, which offers curated routes and concierge-led group sessions in select cities. Over the summer, RunWESTIN joined forces with the social exercise platform Strava, to reward fitness enthusiasts of all types with Marriott Bonvoy points for getting their heart rates up and participating in group challenges.
As another example, The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver has partnered with Nature’s Boardroom, which offers curated group activities designed to create connection, meaning, and shared memories rooted in a strong sense of place. Guests can embark on walking meetings or take a wellness break with a private group activity, such as an eco-tour, cultural art class on the beach, or a culinary experience in the wild.
SkiftX: During the pandemic, evolving customer needs helped accelerate technology adoption, especially around the guest experience and meetings and events. How has this impacted the way Marriott approaches its loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy, and how are technology investments of the past two years benefiting business event attendees today?
Robinson: Whether at home preparing for a trip or on-site at one of our hotels, our guests can access a wide array of experiences through their mobile devices.
For example, guests can request a “Mobile Key” at over 5,800 of our hotels globally, which enables them to use their smartphone as their room key and skip the front desk upon arrival. Within the Marriott Bonvoy app, members can also request service amenities to be delivered to their room, order food from on-property restaurants with the option to have food picked up or delivered to a variety of locations — including the guest’s room, poolside lounge chair, or cabana — and chat directly with the hotel from their smartphone. Meanwhile, Marriott’s next-generation guest room entertainment platform makes the guest television experience personalized, user-friendly, and interactive. Meeting planners can also leverage the platform’s messaging capabilities to keep guests informed of event information throughout their stay.
SkiftX: Sustainability has become an important consideration for corporate travel, with companies like Microsoft making it a core factor in travel management. What role can hospitality companies play to help corporate travelers achieve sustainability goals?
Robinson: Our sustainability and social impact platform, Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction — which puts Marriott’s core value, “Serve Our World,” into action — guides our commitment to make a positive and sustainable impact wherever we do business. From reducing waste and carbon emissions to increasing local sourcing, Marriott is helping individual property teams and meeting planners better meet their own sustainability initiatives. The company’s 2025 goals include cutting food waste in half, having 100 percent of the portfolio sustainably certified, responsibly sourcing 95 percent of our top 10 priority categories, and reducing overall waste to landfill by 45 percent.
Through Serve 360, we have built resources such as Marriott International’s Responsible Sourcing Guide, which offers directives like core parameters for third-party F&B vendors, including guidelines around farming operations and animal welfare, sustainable agricultural practices and techniques to reduce impact, water quality, and more. To show how this is distilled at the property level, Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile’s signature restaurant, Harvest, serves local food in collaboration with Heritage Prairie Farm, which sets aside one acre of land to grow produce directly for the hotel. The hotel also serves as a home to more than 900,000 honeybees on its rooftop garden. This corporate guide is a great tool for properties to ensure we are selecting the right local partners that also uphold our company’s core values at a community level.
SkiftX: Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, how does Marriott intend to leverage its breadth of global brands to enhance the corporate travel experience?
Robinson: Marriott Bonvoy continues to meet the needs of every traveler through its hotel brands, Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities, Marriott Bonvoy Moments, and more. Marriott continually refines its offerings for corporate and business travelers by taking care of what matters most, including local connection, smart amenities, and in-room conveniences. The corporate travel experience is about making it easier and more convenient for our customers as we welcome them back to our hotels. This includes more choice and flexibility through the Bonvoy app and via our on-property amenities.
We are excited to continue to invest in top North American cities that are popular for business meetings and events. Our development pipeline includes a new St. Regis Chicago, The Ritz-Carlton Portland, and two new JW Marriott hotels in cities such as Dallas and Tampa — both cities that have experienced explosive growth in the past few years. We opened our milestone 8,000th hotel in 2022 adjacent to our new company headquarters, and are excited for continued growth in both primary and secondary markets, internationally and beyond.
This content was created collaboratively by Marriott International and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.
Tags: business travel, corporate travel, leisure travel, marriott, SkiftX Showcase: Hospitality, Travel Trends