Marriott APAC CMO: 'Marketers who can identify local trends and adapt will recover quickest'

Nobody could have predicted how 2020 was going to turn out, but in every crisis, there is always an opportunity. When battling a crisis, the key ingredient to success is to respond swiftly and make decisions to keep things moving forward, Bart Buiring (pictured), chief sales and marketing officer, Asia Pacific at Marriott, International told Marketing. "We don’t know when the global pandemic will end, and we can only continue to stay agile in our approach and ensure we keep people - our guests, associates and owners - top of mind at every step we take," he said.

With the constantly evolving marketing industry and the uncertainty of the pandemic, marketers can mitigate the uncertainties by relying on data. Without a doubt, Buiring said analytics enables marketers to know their customers better and the brand can leverage on a wealth of information from bookings to searches.

We know that the recovery is going to be prolonged and differ greatly from market to market, so strategies need to be hyperlocal as we look ahead to 2021.

He added that marketers who can identify the local trends and adapt will recover quickest. Based in Hong Kong, Buiring was promoted from chief operations officer, Asia Pacific to his current role in January this year and currently oversees the Asia Pacific consumer strategy to Marriott International's core hotel business and brands. Having been working at Marriott International for two decades, Buiring has a good understanding of the business and its portfolio of brands from other leadership roles across Asia Pacific and at the hotels including Ritz-Carlton. He first started his career with the company as a food and beverage director of JW Marriott Mumbai and was soon after promoted to director of operations at the same hotel, according to his LinkedIn.

Although this year has been unlike any other, Buiring said the team has been focused on integrating the brand management, marketing, sales, revenue management, loyalty, customer experience, digital and communications functions to grow its brands and travel programme Marriott Bonvoy further. "The core of our business will still remain - as a hospitality company, digital transformation will enhance the travel experience but will not replace the human touch that will make the difference," Buiring added. One example of this is its Marriott Bonvoy app, which allows the company to connect with its 57 million members in Asia Pacific via mobile chats while helping them travel safe and offer personalised experiences. 

"Embracing change is one of our core values and there’s a great internal culture for trying new things. Recent events have meant that we’ve had to adapt our approach, like redoubling our efforts to focus on domestic rather than international travel. We’re confident about our future in Asia, and our people, brands, loyalty program, and operational excellence are the key drivers of our growth," he explained.

(Read also: Questions to ask if you think you have the 'shiny new toy' syndrome)

Being agile amidst the uncertainty

According to figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation reported in September, international tourist arrivals dropped 65% in the first half of 2020 compared to last year and could take between two to four years to return to 2019 levels of tourism, Reuters said. Despite the challenges, Marriott continued to push ahead and recently celebrated its 800th hotel milestone with the opening of JW Nara in Japan, as well as the launch of the first Aloft Hotel in Japan recently. It also debuted the Courtyard brand in Malaysia last month with the launch of Courtyard By Marriott Penang.

Agility has certainly been the quality we have most embraced this year.

As a business, Marriott had to move quickly and decisively to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Buiring explained that it has had to identify innovative ways to engage with consumers and created new offers and experiences, especially in areas such as F&B, to drive local and domestic focuses. They include virtual events such as live cooking demos and hotel restaurant food delivery services. Meanwhile just last week on 8 October, Marriott Bonvoy also kicked off its Week of Wonders aimed at bringing members joy by encouraging travel and providing the opportunity to experience the pleasures of travel in their own home. Each day of the week will feature a different Wonder with themes such as inspiration, comfort, discovery, rejuvenation and delight until 15 October.

Additionally, the pandemic has brought the team closer, forcing it to prioritise ruthlessly and demonstrate agility in a fast changing environment. "The team has come out stronger and our internal employee engagement scores have improved," he added.

As markets have slowly eased restrictions, despite fresh outbreaks occurring in some locations, the team has already seen "a pent-up demand for travel" led by domestic and drive-to destinations, especially resort getaways. It is also aware that the first group of travellers to return are likely to be younger and digitally-savvy travelers. Hence, Buiring said Marriott is working to provide a seamless experience from booking to bedtime through its digital platforms and offer enticing staycation packages across the region. 

"The segment that we expect to recover last is business travel and large events. As businesses start adapting to a new normal, meetings and events are slowly returning but 50% of meeting planners in Asia Pacific still plan to continue with offline events while expressing strong concern over government regulations (45%) and safety and hygiene standards of venue (30%)," Buiring said.

The biggest change that Marriott has observed is consumers becoming more fastidious in their personal hygiene, and he added that safety and hygiene is the new amenity today. To address this, the company introduced digital content about redefined processes and reimagined spaces, MarriottBonvoyEvents.com, guided by cleanliness experts and best practices to help hosts, organisers and attendees plan and execute meetings and connect with confidence. Meeting planners can reference a series of new materials including an informational video, customer stories and resources that provide additional context and information for designing successful events in the current environment. 

Meanwhile in April, it also rolled out the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council to tackle the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic at the hotel level and further advance its efforts in this area. The Marriott Global Cleanliness Council focuses on developing the next level of global hospitality cleanliness standards, norms and behaviors that are designed to minimise risk and enhance safety for consumers and Marriott associates alike.

Join us on a three-week journey at Digital Marketing Asia 2020 as we delve into the realm of digital transformation, data and analytics, and mobile and eCommerce from 10 to 26 November. Sign up here!

Related articles:
Questions to ask if you think you have the 'shiny new toy' syndrome
Axiata Digital's Manzur Rahman: When management refuses to buy into your idea
DMA download: The power of localised data sets
DMA download: Audible's Matthew Gain on not losing focus on creativity amidst the data
DMA download: Daimler's Franco Chiam on daring to fail in digital transformation
DMA download: StanChart's Joan Cheong on humanising tech