Marriott has committed a large portion of its upcoming expansion to the luxury and lifestyle categories. Close to 25% of its pipeline is committed to growing its eight brands that it says sit within this broad categorisation of something that is rather more than a simple mainstream brand flag.
“The luxury and lifestyle category is stronger than ever and we see demand continuing to rise worldwide,” said Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson. “Next generation travellers are poised to comprise more than 60% of our business over the next four years, and already represent a broad spectrum of diverse cultures and lifestyles that view travel as an important way to enrich their lives. Our approach to the luxury and lifestyle segment embraces this trend and is shaping our development strategy.”
The concentration on this increasingly important sector has been noted with a new promotional campaign from Marriott, under the moniker #LoveTravels. This, the company has promised will be “a multicultural campaign that conveys the company’s commitment to make everyone feel comfortable being who they are, everywhere they travel”. An ad campaign across US mainstream media and the LGBT media has been planned to set the scene.
“The company’s current luxury and lifestyle portfolio totals 449 hotels across eight brands, each offering its own unique personality and distinctive guest experience,” said Sorenson. “We have put the power of Marriott behind the growth of iconic brands such as The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, as well as newer brands including EDITION, Autograph Collection and AC Hotels by Marriott. At the same time, the company continues to introduce new brands such as Moxy Hotels, and continues to evolve its Renaissance Hotels brand globally. We are delighted with the success of these tremendous brands, part of our aggressive strategy to lead in the luxury and lifestyle category.”
The brands are different strokes for different folks. Ritz-Carlton is focused on expanding across North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with 15 more hotels by the end of 2016. In Europe, Marriott is understood to be buying its own way into Madrid, with the purchase of the city’s Ritz hotel. Also at the luxury end is EDITION, Marriott’s joint venture with Ian Schrager, which has been slow to get off the ground but should have six hotels open by the end of 2015.
Autograph is Marriott’s independent brand, drawing together privately owned and managed hotels under a looser brand umbrella. The collection will add 20 hotels this year.
Lower down the price scale is AC, which takes the modern style of a European joint venture brand into the US market, where more than 30 hotels are planned across the US and Latin America over the next three years. Back in Europe, new lower priced lifestyle brand Moxy is about to launch this autumn in Milan, with a brand roll-out promised across Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.
HA Perspective [by Chris Bown]: Traditional hotel brands offered certainty, a room that looked the same and delivered consistently, anywhere in the world. That cut the risk for guests, in a world of limited information flow – the days when a multi-channel TV in your hotel room was something special.
In a multimedia world, those guests can now look before they book, and see what others are saying; and more importantly, younger generations think differently about personal and shared space. Grabbing their attention requires more points of difference, an injection of local character, the creation of something “cool”.
Each of these brands is aiming to deliver something less cookie cutter than the traditional options, but as the recent Hotel Analyst Boutique Hotel Report notes, the target audience is notoriously hard to define. Whether Generation Y, Millennials, or one of the four types identified by IHG’s kinship research, all are united by the need for some basics – a good night’s sleep in a comfy bed, followed by a good shower, and connectivity. Hotel groups seem to have got these mostly covered, although they’ve been slow to respond to the demand for free, easy internet access.
Ironically, it is that multiplicity of media that may help the winners set themselves apart. Communicating directly, and more intimately, with a target audience is now possible through social media; and reacting to feedback will help the fleet of foot match their offer to the customer’s needs more clearly.
To date, there have been some successes, notably W from Starwood, and IHG’s Indigo, while there have been failures, too. Hilton is late to the game with the recently launched Curio, while Rezidor will try again with Quorvus, after its tie-up with Missoni didn’t work out.
How will Marriott fare? It is spending substantially on getting traction for its high end brands in this space, recently buying in Madrid for Ritz-Carlton, and on city gateway sites for Edition. They need to deliver a return. Lower down the pricing scale, it remains to be seen whether the AC brand can be sold as something cool and new in the US, and industry reaction to Moxy – albeit ahead of the first actual opening – has been lukewarm. There’s a lot riding on attracting the notoriously fickle Gen Y market into Marriott group hotels over the next few years.