Interview: Marriott's near total pivot to digital

Interview: Marriott's near total pivot to digital

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The travel and tourism industry is en-route for revival, with 81% of travellers are planning a leisure trip in the next six months, and one in five plan on taking three or more trips, according to Expedia’s Traveler Value Index research data. Meanwhile, on the advertising front, digital ad spend is also expected to continue to grow by 12% in 2022, and will grow by another 12% in 2023, Magna's recent forecast said. In APAC, digital growth is primarily being driven from mobile advertising campaigns, which will represent 82% of total digital budgets.

With borders reopening and digital clearly still taking the lead in ad spend, Marriott International is not backing down from its digital-first strategy. Rivero Delgado (pictured), area vice president for Malaysia, Singapore and Maldives, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in an interview that social media platforms were one of its most effective ways for a direct connection with guests in various markets. While Marriott’s messaging to its Marriott Bonvoy members used to be driven centrally from its headquarters in the US, the varying regulations for each market during the pandemic forced the brand to decentralise its process to create localised content for members in varying regions, Delgado said.

This also comes as Marriott pivots almost completely to digital, with close to 100% of its marketing budgets in Singapore, Malaysia and the Maldives dedicated to digital marketing channels such as SEO, social media marketing and email marketing, among others.

Additionally, Delgado said that Marriott’s marketing focus this year will be delivering branded experiences through Marriott Bonvoy, Marriott’s travel programme, and Marriott Bonvoy Moments, the exclusive platform for Marriott Bonvoy members where they can use points earned from travel and everyday activities to bid on VIP access to experiences around the world. Marriott also plans to enlarge its portfolio in APAC this year, with the opening of its 1000th property in the region in late 2022, as well as close to 100 properties across the region this year.

Delgado said that these plans come as the brand remains incredibly optimistic about travel this year. “As we change and grow, the beliefs that are most important to us stay the same: putting people first, pursuing excellence, embracing change, acting with integrity, and serving our world. Our marketing plans are strategised with these values in mind,” she added.

The staycation experience

The closure of borders during the pandemic resulted in a paradigm shift on outlook when it comes to collaborations, as each market leaned into its domestic audience to stimulate travel, Delgado said. For instance, Marriott hotels in Singapore collaborated with Mandai Wildlife Reserve to create bespoke staycation experiences that captured the essence of a vacation with overnight hotel stays, along with experiences that were exclusive to its members in the parks.

It also partnered with Fossa Chocolate to create a series of dining experiences at its hotels, such as a Fossa-inspired afternoon tea at The St. Regis Singapore and a flight of chocolate-inspired cocktails at WOOBar, W Singapore at Sentosa Cove. In Malaysia, Marriott collaborated with like-minded partners such as Le Méridien’s official amenities partner, MALIN+GOETZ, to curate ingredient-inspired F&B experiences, which were well-received in the market. Meanwhile, it recently tied up with ONE Esports to produce Gamer's Paradise, a 15-episode variety talk show series featuring content that celebrates the diversity of gaming and esports culture across Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Additionally, Marriott launched the Marriott Bonvoy R+B Earn and Redeem campaign across APAC earlier this year. The month-long campaign spanned across 57 participating hotels and 232 outlets and aimed to revive the joys of dining out and eating together. Marriott Bonvoy members were offered twice the points in addition to the 20% discount when they dined with participating restaurants and bars. To ensure that the regional campaign maintained a local touch, it engaged key influencers within each market to dine at selected restaurants and bars and share their honest reviews.

Across India, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia, the decision to work with local taste hunters not only lent credibility to build brand awareness, but also ensured that we were engaging our audience on a deeper level – through authentic and trusted sources, Delgado said. “This resulted in substantial impressions and media coverage, worth over US$10,000 in PR value, to build brand awareness as well as an increase in enrollments and member engagement.”

Marketing for the post-pandemictraveller

As borders reopen and travel restrictions ease, the demand for leisure is paving the way for travel recovery. “This is keenly evident in our resort destinations across Singapore, Maldives, and Malaysia, especially so for [Malaysia] when interstate travel was restored, Delgado said.

Safety and hygiene have become “the new amenities” when booking hotels, while technology has taken centre stage with the rise in mobile check-in, virtual room keys, and concierge apps which all allow guests to reduce the need for physical contact.

In addition to the swift return of businesstravellers, Delgado noted a rise in two types of post-pandemictravellers - those seeking for meaningful travel experiences, and multi-generational families who book suites and private villas to enjoy the exclusivity of a private getaway while adhering to social distancing.

However, advance bookings are shrinking considerably across all segments of travel – business, leisure, as well as meetings and events – due to each market’s rapidly evolving travel requirements. “Mosttravellers are anticipating travel plans but are reluctant to confirm the details until they are certain the trips can materialise,” Delgado explained.

To appeal to these groups of post-pandemic travellers, Marriott offers curated experiences for travellers which will showcase the locale of the destination. For instance, in Malaysia, Marriott’s Element Kuala Lumpur works closely with Ilham Gallery and partners such as CIMB for ARTober to turn suites into mini-galleries for guests to immerse themselves in artwork by Malaysian artists. Meanwhile, its Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown inducts guests into the history of Chinatown with its Cuti-Cuti Chinatown staycation package.

For those seeking meaningful travel, Marriott’s Good Travel with Marriott Bonvoy, which has since expanded to close to 100 hotels across APAC, offers guests the opportunity to forge first-hand connections with local communities and the environment during their stay. There are currently 10 properties in Singapore, Malaysia and Maldives offering this programme.

Also addressing concerns over ever-changing travel regulations, Marriott now offers flexibility for travellers by allowing them to modify their reservation up to 24 hours before any travel dates without any additional charges.

However, the swift revival of travel post-pandemic has also led to a manpower challenge in the hospitality industry, including Marriot hotels. “The access to labour is a hurdle we are working hard to overcome, and we continue to engage in dialogue with local authorities on the need for labour as we prepare for the return of travel and the resurgence of business growth in the coming months,” Delgado said.

Related articles:
Marriott Bonvoy harnesses the 'Power of Travel' to quell cabin fever and reconnect individuals
Air New Zealand lures SG travellers with pre-travel ad couples can relate to
Parkroyal Collection debuts in Malaysia as social hub for travellers
How are the different markets in SEA luring back tourists?

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