Being the biggest hotel company in the world would be considered a strength, except in a global pandemic.
As Marriott International eyes the post-pandemic recovery, Julius Robinson, chief sales and marketing officer of U.S. and Canada, is thinking about how travelers’ stays will evolve. When he thinks What the Future, he’s looking at how to exploit digitalization and customization to make guest stays more memorable and personalized.
Kate MacArthur: To what extent will business travel rebound and what will that mean for vacation travel?
Julius Robinson: Clearly, right now our leisure business is what drives our hotels’ volume today. The good news, at least from my perspective, is I have not seen a seismic shift in what the future trends will look like around business travel. And that’s good, because in an environment like ours, with the thousands and thousands of hotels that we have across the United States and Canada, the industry needs to be healthy in order to provide the vacation travelers with top-notch experiences.
MacArthur: When do you think that we’ll see 2019 levels return?
Robinson: I can tell you with some level of certainty that it won’t be this year. It’s going to be interesting because I think business travel will rebound, leisure travel obviously will continue to grow, but how people travel might be a little different.
MacArthur: What do you think that’s going to look like?
Robinson: We will no longer be bound by a Monday through Thursday travel schedule. What the pandemic has taught us, with so many people being out of their offices, is that you really can work anywhere and be productive anywhere. Travelers will take advantage of that.
MacArthur: How does that change your services as a host?
Robinson: We’ll have to be more tuned to the individual’s trip purpose. It will no longer be enough to have a welcome smile upon arrival and a great hotel room and a great pool. We may have to up our business services for those customers who need them. We’ll have to know more about who’s with us and why they’re with us and how long they’ll be with us to make sure that we maximize their trip. More personalization from our end is going to be necessary to really bring those experiences to life.
MacArthur: How might that change from the guest perspective?
Robinson: Maybe the notion of a personal concierge that understands the needs of my trip and what I’m doing, and balancing that with what’s happening in my day to help me in that journey. Before, when it was all about vacation travel, part of that experience was planning some of those things yourself. And as we start to combine some work and some leisure activity, we may need some help and guidance in doing that.
MacArthur: With vacation rentals, people have different expectations for accommodations. What will that mean for what guests expect from hotels?
Robinson: That might mean changes in your traditional check-in time versus historical standards, as an example. You have some of those kinds of check-in/check-out parameters in a vacation home rental today, but it’s not quite as stringent. When and how we provide services to you might also be different, things like housekeeping services, and then really leveraging all the areas of the hotel as you would a home in terms of space for family gathering, space for watching a movie, things like that.
MacArthur: How might hotel chains differentiate that vacation home experience?
Robinson: Folks will, at some point, get used to going back to an environment where they can leave some of those home responsibilities at home and really enjoy being taken care of and pampered. And that’s where our hotel experiences will still be very relevant to them. But the homes and villas experiences are here to stay. What we love about that particular environment is the loyalty program. We have a very unique proposition now where we can actually provide you with a complete experience, we can take care of you everywhere.
Wouldn’t it be great to be in an actual home or villa experience, but also because you’re a loyalty member, be able to use the facilities of the Marriott that’s in the same city or down the street? This idea of taking care of me as a customer, wherever I am, is really something that customers will want to see in the future. And that’s why the homes and villas model for us will continue to grow and continue to be incorporated into our traditional hotel experience.
MacArthur: A lot of people haven’t gone anywhere for a while, so they’re losing some of their loyalty points and benefits. How might that change the way people think about loyalty?
Robinson: The thing for us is harnessing the power of our Marriott Bonvoy partnerships to allow customers to use their points as currency in many other ways outside of hotel stays. The best way to do that is to allow them to use their points for movie theater tickets or food delivery or spa treatments or whatever the case might be, even if it’s not affiliated directly with Marriott.
MacArthur: Our survey results show that when it comes to safety factors for deciding on where to stay, communication topped virtual services or staff COVID-19 testing. What do you make of that?
Robinson: I was comforted to see that there’s not a significant difference in the psyche of our business travelers versus our non-business travelers when it comes to communication. The other thing that I took from the information was that business travelers by nature are just a little bit more predictable. They want to understand the complete journey before they even begin the booking process. At the same time, folks who are completely away from work want to have an experience that’s memorable.