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Marriott is poised to gain a significant early advantage in a nation where credit card payments enjoy widespread popularity. This strategic move is set to provide added momentum to the hotel chain's ambitious target of expanding to 250 hotels by 2025.

Marriott International has entered into a partnership with HDFC Bank in India to introduce the country’s inaugural co-branded hotel credit card.

With a presence of 145 hotels across 16 distinct brands situated in 41 cities within India, Marriott stands as the largest hospitality entity in the nation, boasting the highest inventory of rooms.

At the core of Marriott’s strategy lies Marriott Bonvoy, the hospitality behemoth’s loyalty program that garners a remarkable 186 million members globally.

Talking to Skift at the launch on Thursday, Ranju Alex, the area vice president for South Asia at Marriott, said there are over 4.5 million Bonvoy members in India. The introduction of the co-branded credit card is anticipated to further add to this membership count.

Alex affirmed, “Loyalty stands as our paramount driving force for attracting guests to our hotels. We strive to continually foster engagement with them, ensuring their loyalty within an intensely competitive landscape.”

The credit card aims to leverage the aspirations of the emerging middle class within the nation, Alex remarked.

Marriott Cards in Asia

Marking the fourth Asian destination for this initiative, India joins the ranks of countries where Marriott has launched co-branded credit cards.

Prior to this, the company unveiled two cards in Korea, two in Japan, and three in China.

The discussions regarding the co-branded credit card had commenced prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The launch was unavoidably postponed due to the pandemic’s disruptions. Had circumstances been different, the launch would likely have taken place in early 2022, according to Alex.

John Toomey, the chief sales and marketing officer for Asia Pacific (excluding China) at Marriott International, shed light on the extended timeline of research that led to this collaboration. “The research on this probably started five to ten years ago,” he said to Skift.

Toomey added it would take someone living under a rock to ignore India’s potential as a hub for tourism and hospitality. This applies not only to outbound travel but also to the flourishing domestic landscape.

Indians and Credit Cards

In reference to the credit card habits of Indians, Toomey observed, “Moreover, this demographic displays a pronounced inclination towards credit card usage. In contrast, certain other nations, like Indonesia with its substantial population of 300 million, maintain a relatively subdued enthusiasm for credit cards.”

An average Indian credit card user holds at least two credit cards, according to credit advisory Credit Sudhaar. And chances are at least one of them is a co-branded card issued by the bank in partnership with a leading retail company.

HDFC Bank has reported exponential growth in its co-branded new acquisition portfolio, as it notes a threefold increase year-on-year with a total of over 3 million cards issued.

Regulations from the Reserve Bank of India grant only banks the authority to issue credit and debit cards in India, which means retail enterprises must collaborate with financial institutions to introduce co-branded cards

The Marriott-HDFC credit card will run on Diners Club, part of the Discover Global Network.

Lately, there has been a jump in the number of co-branded credit card launches in the country.

Indian full-service carrier Vistara last month launched its third co-branded credit with IDFC FIRST Bank.

A Collinson report recently stated that Indian consumers are willing to use their payment cards for travel expenses and everyday costs when travel-related rewards are offered. 

Marriott’s Focus on Loyalty

Executives at Marriott have often emphasized the mutually beneficial relationship between the loyalty program and co-branded credit cards. An earlier Skift story had mentioned how by leveraging the loyalty of their members and encouraging direct bookings, Marriott aims to bypass intermediary fees from online travel agencies.

Bart Buiring, chief sales and marketing officer for Asia Pacific at Marriott International, in an earlier interaction with Skift, underscored the centrality of the Marriott Bonvoy program in their consumer strategy. With over 55 million members in the Asia Pacific alone, Marriott hopes to inspire renewed enthusiasm for travel within its customer base.

The success of the Bonvoy program has also translated into substantial revenue from fees associated with their co-branded credit cards. These cards achieved record acquisition rates and card spending in the previous year. Marriott revealed a remarkable 16 percent year-over-year increase in non-room-related franchise fees, largely attributed to their co-brand credit card fees.

Additionally, a recent analysis by CBRE Hotels Research highlighted that Marriott, along with other major hospitality players including Hilton, Hyatt, Wyndham, and Choice, collectively witnessed a 35 percent average growth in loyalty members since 2019.

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Tags: asia monthly, credit cards, india, loyalty, marriott, marriott bonvoy, skift india report

Photo credit: Marriott launches India's first-ever co-branded credit card. Marriott International

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