Check-in to the future

A logo change, interactive micro site, mobile game -- these are all opposite to Marriott's old-school image for the past 56 years; yet the hotel is pumping US$30 million for the revamp. Joyce Yip looks at what is really going on with the household hotel name.

Ambitious is perhaps already too mild a word to describe the future of Marriott Hotels.

With 26 properties in the pipeline for China in the next three years – a number higher than its expansion in other continents (the entire North America, for example, only has 12 new openings) – the hotel group is planting its flags not only in tier one cities or touristy areas, but also in the likes of Shunde, a traditional agricultural city in the Canton province.

As the 56-year-old Marriott Hotels becomes serious about the Mainland, it’s also taking the opportunity to revamp its ancient global image of fireplaces and stuffed sofas with one that appears hip and receptive to change to appeal to its new audience in the East and, globally, to seep into Gen Y’s radars.

“In Asia Pacific, Marriott Hotels has a unique opportunity to establish its new identity, especially to the next generation of Asian traveller,” says Paul Cahill, Marriott Hotels’ senior vice-president of brand management,
who adds the young age of its outlets and audience in Asia is a major advantage for “new, stylish and purpose-built hotels”.

“So, to a degree, we have a blank canvas with our guests in Asia, but we use the building blocks of the Marriott Hotels brand and culture to engage our guests.”

A part of Cahill’s definition of engagement is its global multi-year “Travel Brilliantly” campaign of US$30 million launched in early June: a push highlighted by a logo change – whereby the signature red M is complemented by a
smaller black bold font rather than spelling out its entire name in cursive type – and an online and offline video that reveals the new features of the hotel such as the revamped check-in areas, restaurants and meeting rooms.

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Behind the blatant advertising push is a micro-site where visitors can input and vote for ways to improve the brand across the fields of technology – mobile check-in, for example; eat and drink – such as smart fridges; work and play – more ergonomic desks; and style and design – refurbished lobbies and guest rooms.

To a degree, we have a blank canvas with our guests in Asia, but we use the building blocks of the Marriott Hotels brand and culture to engage our guests

The 30-second video – an adaptation of the global version – was rolled out in China online and on in-flight channels at the end of August, while the interactive elements are featured on TripAdvisor and DaoDao – or what Cahill calls “local media whom [its] Gen Y traveller guests are already familiar” – to leverage on its media reach and language capabilities.

This concept of co-creation is especially important for a company that has been around for more than half a century: not only does it show its willingness to change as well as an insightful forecast of a new trend of travellers
who are “mobile, global and don’t separate work and play”, it also proves an openmindedness to listen to its consumers.

“Co-creation allows us to engage with Gen Y’s frequent business travellers and find out what matters to them when it comes to travel,” he says.

“This transformation will make Marriott Hotels relevant for the next generation of travellers globally.”

Aside from the micro-site and its corporate website, Cahill says the American hotel has also revamped its content and voice for Facebook and Twitter – although he didn’t elaborate further – and included Pinterest and Instagram into its social media roster. In August, the brand even became the first in the hotel industry to come up with a mobile game, Xplor, the Apple-friendly application based on a mission to rescue the protagonist’s
kidnapped aunt.

Players can choose their avatars to engage in different challenges in virtual cities worldwide; and they can also network with one another via the game or through its site, Facebook page and other social media platforms.

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Although not part of the Travel Brilliantly push, the purpose of attracting the next generation of social and mobile travellers who blend work and play, aligns with that of the global campaign.

“Our digital goal is to connect with our guests as best we can through the devices they use and, ultimately, enable them to stay in our hotels with the best possible experience,” Cahill says.

“Marriott Hotels is on a transformational journey to re-imagine the travel experience beyond the four walls of a hotel for the next generation.”