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Washington State University
Carson College of Business Dividend Article

Burtenshaw Lecture Series:

Strategy Behind Marriott Success
By Sue McMurray • Photos by Josue Schneegans

You may be surprised to know that some of the most important information hotel managers want to know is whether guests prefer to bathe or shower, unpack their clothes, or use a desk. But identifying guests’ personal preferences helps Marriott International Inc. make critical management decisions that have sustained its nearly 90-year reputation as one of the world’s leading hoteliers.

RobSteigerwaldPhotoMarriott LogoAt the Burtenshaw Distinguished Lecture Series, keynote speaker Rob Steigerwald, chief operations officer, The Americas – Western Region, said the company’s success is due to its focus on meeting the lodging needs of the next generation.

While presenting “Reimagining Hospitality, Next Gen Now,” he used polling technology to query the audience about their traveling preferences, to see how a local sampling compares to Marriott’s larger research efforts to improve services within its 4,200 hotels across the globe. Using their smart phones to respond, millennials in the audience indeed indicated a preference for showers and working on the bed versus at a desk.

“Anything we do throughout our company, we do for the next gen mindset,” he said. “Research tells us they really like spaciousness, so we’ve opened up closets, removed drawers, and put couches along windows.”


Revolutionizing services for next gen guests

Steigerwald said that because research has confirmed 80 percent of guests travel with three or more devices, Marriott has revolutionized its technology in some hotels to allow guests to check in via a mobile app and stream from their devices to the television. The Marriott Rewards Program has also been tailored to meet millennials’ expectation of instant gratification. The program offers more flexibility so there is no wait time for users to spend points, which now include food, beverages, and local events. He said Marriott is using technology to capture mobile user’s favorite pastimes so extra benefits may be awarded. For example, once Marriott identifies that a guest likes Starbucks, managers can send a “flash perk” text, such as a 20 percent discount or free drink coupon.

Steigerwald said Marriott used to brand itself through a consistent, institutional look but now wants every hotel to look different. The company includes 19 hotel brands in 78 countries but employs a strategy for lifestyle focusing on four select brands, each providing a different type of guest experience.

Different brands for different guests

From left, DeVere Jerry Burtenshaw, Nancy Swanger, director of the School of Hospitality Business Management, and Rob Steigerwald.
From left, DeVere Jerry Burtenshaw, Nancy Swanger, director of the School of Hospitality Business Management, and Rob Steigerwald.

“Renaissance hotels feed curiosity,” he said, and “speak to a consumer who typifies a modern discoverer.” Rooms are designed to evoke a sensory experience through full service, luxury accommodations.

Edition hotels, developed in partnership with American entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer Ian Schrager, cater to guests through exclusive international locations with upscale restaurants.

AC hotels best serve guests that Steigerwald labeled “curators”—those who expect good service but don’t want any extras.

Moxy hotels, specifically designed for next gen guests, are cool, hip and strategically small to accommodate tight budgets. Designed with Ikea partners, the Moxy brand reflects a fun, youthful spirit who favors hospitality over service. A room is literally the size of a shipping container with a desk that can hang on pegs.

“Marriott’s philosophy is the more brands, the better. You have to differentiate based on your targets,” Steigerwald said.

Steigerwald said while hospitality professionals should always have more than one strategy, perhaps the best advice to remember was spoken by Bill Marriott himself: “Success is never final.”

The annual Burtenshaw Lecture Series sponsored by DeVere Jerry and Angelina Burtenshaw in memory of their son, Calvin Brett, is hosted by the School of Hospitality Business Management.