One of the largest hospitality companies in the world is continuing to grow and evolve as market conditions change. Post-pandemic, people are working, traveling and vacationing in new ways. Marriott International is adapting to fit this new world by introducing (and continuing) innovative initiatives to stay relevant to both consumers and investors.
“Our goal is to be everywhere our guests want us to be, with the right property in the right location at the right price point,” said Leeny Oberg, chief financial officer and executive vice president, development, Marriott International. Here’s how Marriott is doing just that.
Growth in the Caribbean and Latin America through property conversions
Last year, more than half of Marriott’s new rooms in the region were conversions, a signal that hotel owners see strength in the company’s distribution, reputation and 30+ brands. In the first quarter of 2023, there were already more than 3,000 conversion rooms in the works. Hotel owners cite greater visibility and the opportunity to leverage costs as part of a larger entity as reasons to join the Marriott fold.
Among the most celebrated conversions to Marriott are Sanctuary Cap Cana, a Luxury Collection Adult All-Inclusive Resort, Dominican Republic, that was previously operating as an independent, and JW Marriott Hotel São Paulo, which brought Marriott’s luxury portfolio to the largest city in South America. Hospitality brands like Marriott can grow faster through conversions, especially when targeting particular regions of the world.
Focus on Africa, entering luxury safari market
Marriott has more than 120 hotels in Africa with more on the way. With the recent opening of JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge in Kenya, Marriott dipped its toes into the high-end safari travel market. Seeing success and future potential, it is announcing another luxury property in Tanzania with JW Marriott Serengeti Lodge expected to open in 2026. Marriott will be one of the few brand names to operate in this space joining hotel companies like Fairmont and Kempinski that have had safari properties for many years.
Marriott’s reach in Africa, in general, is growing, too. When Marriott acquired Starwood, it gained French-born Le Méridien Hotels and Resorts, which already had a substantial portfolio on the continent. Then Marriott added South Africa’s Protea Hotels, a brand it continues to grow with new hotels in Nigeria and Botswana. A new property will open in Stone Town on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar later this year, and by 2025, the first Protea by Marriott will open in Ethiopia, near Lake Tana.
Emphasis on growing markets
It’s not just Africa and Latin America that are big for Marriott, the hospitality company is making tremendous inroads with other emerging markets. Marriott is set to announce its 500th hotel in China this year with the Rissai Valley, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, boasting 87 luxury villas with the nature reserve.
This year alone, Marriott will open 47 properties in China representing 13,000 rooms. Among the most recent announcements are a new EDITION in the southwestern city of Dali by 2025, the Sheraton Hangzhou Fuyang to open in 2025, the first Four Points by Sheraton to open next year in Xuancheng (Anhui province) and a Fairfield by Marriott in Lijiang Ancient Town (Yunnan province) next year.
A new partnership with Vietnamese management company Vinpearl will bring 15 new Marriott properties to the country. Eight new hotels are in the works in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, as part of an agreement with Rua Al Madinah Holding Company. The brand is also expanding in Turkey with 13 deal signings adding to the existing 48 hotels in the country, including properties like W Istanbul and EDITION Bodrum. Altogether, Marriott will eventually have more than 10,000 rooms there.
Sheraton began a significant brand refresh before the Covid-19 pandemic, but had some of its “mojo” stolen during the downturn. It’s back though. Sheraton properties around the world from Cairo to Phoenix are investing millions into a new look and feel to position it as a destination for business travelers to connect while being at the center of the action for leisure travelers.
The rejuvenation of Sheraton Spa is another part of the brand evolution with many locations around the world. Most recently, the first Sheraton Spa for the Asia Pacific region opened at the new Sheraton Cebu Mactan Resort. The beachfront resort counts numerous pools, an open-air lobby and top-notch dining among its main draws in addition to the spa. Already, the property has seen strong popularity with guests from around the region because of it, according to its management.
Sheraton is Marriott’s most global brand, which makes it a key focus for the company. It’s not just about redesigning hotels, but adding new properties, too. Asia-Pacific alone saw five new openings in the past year with Kagoshima, Japan and four in China: Rizhao, Ninghai, Beihai and Chengdu.
Dynamic loyalty pricing
Like most other hospitality and airline loyalty programs, Marriott Bonvoy switched to dynamic pricing a few years ago. The system removes hotel award redemption categories and award charts, which makes it harder for travelers to know how many points they need to save for a redemption. If they know their dates of travel, it’s possible to check, but the amount may change as inventory for the hotel fills up. This is beneficial to the bottom line, but irks loyalty program members.
Post-pandemic, key moves for many programs have tightened up some of the perks, but Marriott does not leave its travelers empty-handed. The loyalty program still provides massive benefits in terms of free hotel stays and onsite amenities like club lounge access or breakfast for certain elite status tiers. Not all hotels offer the same level of benefits, but on the whole, it has kept Marriott Bonvoy competitive.
For 2024, Marriott Bonvoy is making a rather generous move. For travelers that currently have elite status, but don’t meet the requirements to meet the same tier for next year, there is good news. Instead of dropping down to the lowest tier, the program is offering what is known as a “soft landing.” For example, if a Titanium member (one of the top levels) does not travel enough with Marriott to meet any status tier for 2024, they would only drop one elite status tier (down to Platinum) instead of losing status entirely. It’s a pro-consumer move that keeps the member engaged and tied to the program while also retaining future business.
Leaning into rest and wellness
Joining other hotel brands like Hyatt, Marriott is leaning into the health and wellness space. This is nothing new to Marriott. Its Westin brand has long delivered on the promise of well-being. From white tea-scented fragrance and workout equipment to borrow to its RunWESTIN program and sleep-encouraging menu items, Westin has plenty of fans. Freshly blended juice and smoothie menus, bedside lavender aromatherapy balm and Hyperice recovery equipment are also on tap at Westin properties, including new locations like The Westin Manila and The Westin London City.
Other Marriott brands have their own wellness amenities. At AC by Marriott properties, guests can make their own lavender turndown sachets to enjoy in their room. When checking in at Element Hotels, guests receive warm or cold scented towels, cards with recommendations for sound sleep and caffeine-free teas. Post-pandemic, caring for yourself when traveling is paramount, and Marriott wants this to be an important part of its brand experience.
A new partnership with FitnessOnDemand is bringing virtual fitness classes and wellness content to nearly 500 hotels across the portfolio. This is in addition to the live and online classes already offered at gyms across the Marriott network.
30 brands not enough, two more join Marriott Bonvoy
Adding to its nearly three dozen brands, Marriott added the affordable, mid-scale City Express Hoteles portfolio of hotels to the Marriott Bonvoy network this year giving it instant saturation to important markets like Mexico and Chile. In fact, it is responsible for boosting the region’s growth for Marriott by 45% and has made Marriott the largest brand in Latin American.
“With this brand acquisition, we have significantly grown our presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, particularly in secondary and tertiary markets, making us the largest hotel company in the region,” said Brian King, president, Caribbean and Latin America (CALA), Marriott International.
Marriott is also creating a 32nd brand in the same price category, but focused on the extended stay guest. Still without a name and referred to as Project MidX Studios, the first property is anticipated to open late next year. It will join other Marriott extended stay brands like Residence Inn by Marriott, Element by Westin, TownePlace Suites by Marriott and Marriott Executive Apartments, cementing Marriott’s position in the long-stay market.
A new solution to Airbnb: Apartments by Marriott Bonvoy
Marriott’s answer to Airbnb was brilliant with Homes & Villas by Marriott offering similar (if not better) accommodations, often in vacation destinations. Travelers could earn or redeem points for their stay, which is not something that can be done when staying with Airbnb (although there is a mileage-earning partnership with Delta SkyMiles).
Advancing the idea even further, the hospitality launched Apartments by Marriott Bonvoy. The idea could not have come at a better time with more people working remotely or blending work and travel.
“Travelers planning vacations and long business trips today are seeking more choice in accommodations, and the introduction of Apartments by Marriott Bonvoy responds to those trends while offering developers a premium product backed by our trusted name and distribution platform,” said Stephanie Linnartz, president, Marriott International.
These home developer-designed accommodations are larger than hotel rooms (even those in the extended stay category), but still allow Marriott to gain a piece of the residential accommodations pie. Marriott loyalty members can earn or redeem points for these properties, which will be more reflective of the neighborhood rather than follow formulaic designs the way typical extended stay hotels do.
The Ritz-Carlton Yacht finally sets sail
Evrima, the first of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection has finally set sail. Marriott’s entry into the luxury cruise market allows Marriott Bonvoy members to do business with the brand even when not staying in hotels. Loyalty members can earn and redeem points as well as enjoy elite status perks like welcome amenities, free laundry and priority boarding. The second ship, Ilma, will join the fleet next year adding to Marriott’s new at-sea properties.
According to Bloomberg reports, the brand was working on securing $400 million in additional funding to add more “superyachts” to the fleet and tap into the $1.2 trillion luxury travel market.