Marriott says its controversial marketing campaign to encourage travellers to book direct is based on more than just trying to bypass intermediaries.
The #ItPaysToBookDirect campaign is now almost 12 months old and, initially, triggered a fair degree of upset from the likes of the American Society of Travel Agents, which questioned if the marketing was “legal and truthful” as well as apparently being anti-travel agent.
Marriott hit back, saying the campaign was “simply another common practice effort to create awareness of our existing site to inform customers who choose to make their own reservations”.
Although the dust has since settled, Marriott execs have indicated that the campaign, which featured American comedian, actress and “YouTube personality” Grace Helbig in a series of videos designed to extol the financial virtues of booking direct with the chain, had another motive.
Chris Robinson, Marriott’s senior manager for global ecommerce, says one of the drivers for the campaign also concerned how it is anticipating a major change in traveller demographics in the coming years.
It estimates that some 76% of its guests will be in the so-called Millennial age bracket (16 to 24 years) within four years.
The campaign not only has a serious proposition to get more guests to skirt around intermediaries and also sign up to its loyalty programme – but Robinson, speaking after the Direct Booking Summit (convened by Triptease) in London this week, argues that it is important that the brand positions itself in the minds of Millenials as the place to secure their hotel stays before they form specific types of booking behaviour (i.e. using online travel agencies).
The company is, like many other chains and independent hotels, also repositioning itself as an “experience”, rather than just somewhere to sleep.
This, Robinson says, is in part again due to the Millennials, which are considered to be “wanting more” from their accommodation provider.
The sharing economy affect, where brands such as Airbnb talk up the overall aesthetic of a stay in a host’s home (“live like a local”, etc, etc), has given hotels pause for thought as to how they attract the new generation of guests.
And despite the giant Marriott acquisition of Starwood, which is expected to give the group a significant presence in most cities, the threat from alternative accommodation is very real.
The priority for a brand is always around providing “excellent customer service”, Robinson says, but hotels are no longer just about ensuring the guest room is perfect.
Younger guests that enter the hotel bar, for example, no longer look at the menu or order a drink in the first instance – they instead look for the nearest plug socket or ask for the (free) wifi details.
Robinson says that understanding and catering for that switch in guest behaviour is a huge change in strategy at an individual property level and with its brand marketing.
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