Marriott Adopts Innovation Like A Startup

by Jack Sommer

In the era of disruptive startups like Airbnb, most traditional hotels are implementing new ways to both keep guests coming back and attract new ones through marketing, interior renovations, and price deals. Recent studies from Slice Intelligence show that the rate of return visits for Airbnb has surpassed the amount of all individual traditional hotel brands.

One established hotel brand not satisfied with the status quo, however, is Marriott. This may not be surprising, being that they're the clear market leader for hotels after finalizing a deal in recent weeks in the purchase of Starwood Hotels - totaling over 30 hotel brands and over a million rooms in over 110 countries around the world (making for 1 of every 15 rooms anywhere). Why they're succeeding is that instead of depending on the usual avenues of advertising, they're relying on product innovation and experiential marketing as a point of difference. 

The ideas that Marriott continues to implement are experimental in nature with the company moving at a quick and consistent speed, acting nimble like a startup despite their giant size. Some ideas are based around human engagement, others around connected technology in the rooms, but each innovative.

Just yesterday, Marriott announced "The World's First Hotel Innovation Incubator" - under the name of M Beta - at their Charlotte Marriott City Center. It will continuously operate in a live beta stage where it will be constantly changing, allowing for each piece of the hotel to continue to be prototyped and given feedback from guests in real-time. The evolution of the space will also be shown over time through the brand's social media channels. 

"We are inviting guests to be part of the innovation and decision making," Marriott said. There's physical buttons throughout the inside to give that prompt for response from visitors. Marriott generally is ambitious with involving their customers, even asking for submissions within the Innovation section of their site, of which some have actually even been chosen.

Inside one of the "Stay Well" rooms.

Inside one of the "Stay Well" rooms.

Another example of an innovative step they've taken is one done with a collaborative partner named Delos, a real estate company who's been getting involved in the technology and experiential end too. Marriott is one of the hotel chains who has implemented Delos' unique "Stay Well" rooms into multiple locations of theirs. The idea of the rooms is to provide a health conscious space for travelers. These connected rooms integrate different types of technology that combine to make an experience filled with multiple elements that can work in coordination with each other or on their own. 

The way that these "Stay Well" rooms go about this is to include integrations such as lights that slowly increase to stimulate dawn, air purification systems, special mattresses, nutritious meals. Initially the series of rooms launched at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas a few years back, taking up 41 at the time (now 171). But no matter what location you're in, the rooms always have a dedicated app service for that specific location to give you assistance on some local recommendations or inform you more fully how your technology hooked-up room works. 

Other features are already included, too, one of which using it as a way to fight jet-lag. Inputting your flight duration and landing time, it can advise you on the best time to get that first cup of coffee in or the best time to take "Vitamin D Walks" and exposure yourself to light (important if you've been napping after getting hit by the time change and lack of sleep, for instance). This works in coordination with technology in the room, of course, using elements such as blackout shades that are built in with the windows so that the amount of light shining inside can be more carefully controlled - definitely helpful when managing jet lag. 

Marriott is also experimenting with focusing on engaging the mind of their guests. They're collaborating with TED Talks to host a series of "salons" in five locations around the world next year where TED Talks Fellows will speak. They are also bringing original and exclusive TED content to Marriott outside of that. 

The reason for this, Marriott says, is that "travel expands the mind and sparks news, creative ways of thinking" for people. They want to help you find, develop, and grow the inspiration you get from traveling. According to the company, the guests most often drawn to Marriott are entrepreneurs, innovators, and "individuals who already believe in the power of a great idea." 

And most recently, a new experience called the #MGravityRoom was unveiled by Marriott that anyone is invited to come and try out. The idea is simple: the mock room is designed at a 90-degree angle on the floor. People can get into all sorts of crazy and wacky positions where, when the picture is rotated to its "normal" angle, can look as if people are defying gravity (hence the name of the experience). It's a minimal and fun idea that doesn't take itself too seriously, but provides nice shareable content on social media for those who decide. to take advantage. 

Usually, category leaders just fight for the status quo. Marriott, however, recognizes that these different types of experimental projects should happen fast to make a difference in the evolving hospitality market. This is especially true as the leader. Marriott brands stand to benefit most.