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Marriott tries to aim a younger crowd

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January 7, 2014

Marriott tries to aim a younger crowd

Hospitality News: JW Marriott Los Cabos Lobby
JW Marriott Los Cabos Lobby

J.W.?Marriott?Jr., the 81-year-old chairman of Marriott International, flew to London in September to inspect his company?s new jewel: Edition, a sumptuous boutique hotel intended to anchor a new 100-city?chain?? the next W, if Marriott has its way. But Mr. Marriott did not stay overnight at the?London Edition, as the new property is known, with its laser-lighted nightclub and guest-room paintings of women wearing toilet-paper turbans. He bedded down at Grosvenor House, one of the company?s more traditional luxury hotels.

Berners Tavern, the restaurant at the London Edition, is under the direction of the Michelin-starred executive chef Jason Atherton. The hotel is located at 10 Berners Street.?More Photos ?

?This is what I know, but I?m the past,? he said, sitting in the old-fashioned floral splendor of a Grosvenor corner suite. Edition, conceived in partnership with the boutique hotelier?Ian Schrager, is about the Marriott company?s future. ?We?re trying to get some flash,? Mr. Marriott said. He rose wearily from his chair. ?I?m off to see the flash.?

Marriott is big. The company, based in Bethesda, Md., operates 660,000 rooms under?16 brands, including Courtyard, Renaissance and Ritz-Carlton; more than 800 new Marriott-operated properties are in the works worldwide.

Marriott is dependable. When you?re stranded overnight on business in St. Louis or Denver or Chicago, the red glow of a Marriott sign is there at the airport to offer you a clean, comfortable room.

Marriott, in the words of brand experts, is boring. Nobody raves about the D.J. at a Courtyard.

So how do you recast this company as cool and current ? a ?brand constellation? of everything from standard-issue roadside rooms to six-star oceanfront suites? This is?Arne M. Sorenson?s?conundrum. Mr. Sorenson, 54, took over as chief executive in 2012, when Mr. Marriott stepped aside after 40 years on the job. Making this task trickier is the fact that Mr. Sorenson is the first C.E.O. in the company?s history who isn?t a member of the Marriott family. It?s his job to change the business while remaining reverential to J.W., who created the Marriott image and whose family still owns 25 percent of its stock.

It?s no easy puzzle, but Marriott, the world?s No. 3 hotel company by number of rooms, must quickly solve it to compete for younger hotel guests, Mr. Sorenson says. One indication of the urgency: Marriott expects more globally minded millennial consumers, also referred to as Generation Y or people born roughly between 1980 and 2000, to account for a third of business-room nights in the United States by 2020.

?We have to be as strong with the X?s and Y?s as we are with the boomers,? Mr. Sorenson said in November. ?I don?t think any of the big brands in the hotel space have really won them over.?

Lodging analysts agree. But everyone is certainly giving it their best, from the sprawling InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, the No. 1 company and the owner of Holiday Inn and others, to Hilton Hotels & Resorts, the No. 2 company, which in mid-December executed a $2.35 billion initial public offering. To win over younger business travelers ? and, even more important, to keep them in the Marriott fold when they travel for leisure, particularly overseas ? the energetic Mr. Sorenson is relying on a range of strategies.

Core hotels are getting gussied up. In September, the?Chicago Marriott O?Hare?unveiled $40 million worth of improvements, including a better bar, historically a Marriott weakness. (Some analysts trace that to the company?s Mormon roots.) The?Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center?begins a similar $30 million upgrade in February. The company has been trying to improve what it calls the ?guest-room beauty experience? at Marriott-brand hotels ? stocking bathrooms, for instance, with a Thai skin care line.

A new ad push, ?Travel Brilliantly,? estimated to cost roughly $90 million over three years, reflects Mr. Sorenson?s focus on younger consumers. TV and web ads, taped at international resorts like the?Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, intone: ?This is not a hotel. It?s an idea that travel should be brilliant. The promise of spaces as expansive as your imagination.? Marriott also offers Xplor, a free smartphone app combining reservations with games; players win loyalty club points by completing challenges at virtual hotels.

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Source The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/business/marriott-international-aims-to-draw-a-younger-crowd.html?_r=0

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