How to adapt to the new behaviour of hotel guests

Founded in 1927, Marriott International offers more than 8,000 properties in 139 countries under 30 brands such as The Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, Sheraton, Le Meridien and AC Hotels. In this interview, Gonzalo Aguilar, Chief Operating Officer Europe at Marriott International, tells us about the hotel group’s future plans. Gonzalo will be a speaker at the Forward_MAD conference on October 6th.

They say there is always a lesson to learn from every situation no matter how bad, what are the lessons that Marriott International has learnt from COVID and the post pandemic period?

The pandemic was undoubtedly the biggest challenge that has ever impacted our company and the travel industry as a whole. From the first warning signs of this unprecedented event, we took a number of steps to adapt and strengthen the business, including reducing costs significantly and improving liquidity. We were forced to make some tough decisions, but we had to protect our business for the long term.

The global pandemic also shifted travellers’ expectations, as well as changed human attitudes and behaviours. We had to adapt and respond quickly, and that has helped ensure we are more agile as we move into this new world of travel.

For instance, retaining and gaining customer loyalty is even more important now than it has ever been. That is why we’re using the power of Marriott Bonvoy to deepen engagement with our 169 million members. Marriott Bonvoy members not only receive free Wi-Fi, mobile check-in and the lowest member rates, but they can earn and redeem points across our portfolio of 30 hotel brands including St. Regis, The Ritz-Carlton, Westin and W Hotels, as well as our premium home rental offering, Homes & Villas by Marriott International.

Marriott is also now very engaged in leveraging technology to deliver personalized travel experiences before, during and after the stay, to engage with our guests wherever they are in the way that is easiest and preferred by them – whether that is through an app, messaging, the call centre or via new digital technology such as Zoom. Furthermore, it’s now easier than ever for our customers to book online with 12 new language sites, including Turkish, Polish and the newly launched Hebrew site.

The last three years have been a roller-coaster for the travel and hospitality industry, but the speed of the recovery illustrates a societal shift towards spending on experiences as opposed to goods, and we remain optimistic for the future.

The group has announced “outstanding results” for the second quarter of the year, how were the results in Europe? Do you think that this trend will continue?

Correct, our second quarter results were outstanding and driven by strong demand for our portfolio of 30 brands around the world. While we knew there would be significant pent-up demand for travel post the pandemic, it has been encouraging to see how quickly travellers have returned to our hotels. By June, revenue per available room (Rev PAR) in all regions outside of Asia Pacific had more than fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, leading to June’s global performance being 1% above 2019 levels. Worldwide occupancy for the month rose to 71%, just 5% points below pre-pandemic levels, with the global average daily rate (ADR) an impressive 8% up on the same month in 2019.

Europe has experienced the fastest revenue per available room recovery of all our regions this year, due to a strong return of international travel. With borders open across Europe, the room nights from international guests more than doubled in the region from Q1 to Q2. While leisure travel has without doubt driven the recovery so far, we are also seeing group and business transient demand return, though at a more moderate pace.

We will continue to use the power of Marriott Bonvoy to deepen engagement and loyalty with our 169 million members worldwide. With the largest footprint in the industry, and an improving travel environment, we are confident in the continued demand for travel.

A new W Hotel in Costa Navarino, Greece, and a Fairfield at San Jose airport in Costa Rica are the latest opening of the group, which other new developments are coming up in the next couple of months?

The pace of our growth illustrates the great demand for our brands, and we have some fantastic properties opening this year around the globe. At the end of Q2, Marriott’s global development pipeline totalled almost 2,950 properties and more than 495,000 rooms. Meanwhile, the EMEA region’s pipeline has 412 properties and 79,256 rooms.

Last quarter, Marriott signed the JW Frankfurt City Center in Germany and an agreement with the Red Sea Development Company to bring the first Ritz-Carlton Reserve to the Middle East. The company also signed two new residential projects in London: The Lucan, Autograph Collection Residences in London, the first standalone Autograph Collection Residences globally and The St. Regis Residences London, located at one of London’s most coveted addresses adjacent to Buckingham Palace.

In terms of our new hotels, we recently opened W Algarve on Portugal’s beautiful south coast. It really is a fantastic W that has already made a splash on the Algarve’s luxury hotel scene. I’m also particularly fond of the new-build AC by Marriott Split in Croatia. Perfectly positioned just a 15-minute walk from the Old Town, the property has sweeping views across the Adriatic Sea. Passing through the centre of the hotel is part of a protected Roman aqueduct, dating back 1,700 years, that remains exposed, fusing ancient history with modernist inspired urban interiors.

And for next year, I’m excited about the debut of the JW Marriott Madrid. Located in the central Plaza de Canalejas, the hotel will focus on providing a destination for guests to rediscover a balance in mind, body and spirit. The restored building is expected to house 139 guest rooms, including two floors of suites featuring outdoor terraces. Among the public spaces will be a lobby bar, restaurant and wellbeing space.

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