As the world deals with an uneven recovery from the pandemic, Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company by rooms, is staggering the rollout of its 'Power of Travel' global marketing campaign for its Bonvoy loyalty program in Asia-Pacific. While the campaign has been launched in some markets, where the recovery is more evident, its rollout could be delayed to September or beyond in other markets across the region.
"The global campaign … is perfectly timed for the United States, where we see fast recovery," Bart Buiring, chief sales and marketing officer for Marriott Asia Pacific, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "It's perfectly timed for Europe, where … vaccination rates are up, people are travelling [and] they want to go away for the summer. In Asia Pacific, we've decided to run it in certain markets. But we are delaying the rollout of the campaign more broadly. You will not see this campaign here in Hong Kong until maybe September or October this year, because it doesn't make sense for us. Whereas in Australia, until again, the recent lockdown in Sydney, we would have run the campaign in order to inspire domestic travel.”
Buiring, who was the COO of the hotel chain’s APAC business before becoming its marketing head, is faced with keeping a storied brand moving not just through the pandemic, but also relative to hipper competition from the likes of Airbnb, which is itself changing its business and marketing spend. While Marriott slashed its marketing budget worldwide in response to covid in 2020, it has slowly resumed spending in APAC as an appetite for travel resumes.
Consider its expansion in China. Marriott has 24 of its 30 brands in the market and recently launched its Moxy brand (a newer youth-focused property) with a campaign by London and Shanghai agency Qumin, which involved over 6,000 consumer-generated videos uploaded on Duoyin. The campaign generated over 300 million views and 3.5 million likes, with the The Moxy Hongqiao location tag gaining over 120,000 views too.
While China may have opened fully to 'revenge-spending' domestic travellers, Marriott’s marketing campaigns have had to be more nuanced elsewhere. For instance, its Westin Hotels & Resorts, introduced the wellness-focused Let’s Rise campaign to motivate locals and travellers alike to regain control and enhance their wellbeing when they travel. With use of the 'We are all risers' tagline, this campaign celebrates a community of achievers and reinforces the brand’s commitment to wellbeing around the clock. Fifity-nine Westin hotels in Asia-Pacific will address the increasing importance of wellness.
Elsewhere, Marriott's #WBLACKBOX campaign focuses on growing its W property’s brand in APAC. The initiative aims to amplify the brand's entry into Japan as well as its expansion across Greater China and Australia, by working with cultural influencers such as Akira Exile (W Osaka’s brand ambassador) and Amiaya (W Hotels fashion ambassador), as well as DJs and fashion lovers.
In India, where the hospitality industry has waxed and waned through multiple Covid waves, Marriott has also had to be patient with its plans. In the interim, the company launched its Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels, a program to bring the Marriott dine-in experience to homebound consumers.
Over 15,000 ready-to-eat vegetarian meals, including fresh curries, rotis, and desserts were delivered—by branded food trucks—to more than 20 Covid-19 centres for those working and quarantining in isolation. This initiative is an example of Marriott International’s commitment to ' Nurture our world', a part of Serve 360, the company’s sustainability and social-impact platform.
“What has made this year so interesting is the disparity essentially, between the different markets,” says Buiring. “China is fully back, and our performance was actually more or less on par with 2019.” But then, when Marriott looks at other markets, the situation is more dynamic. Korea is pretty steady, as is Australia, with domestic demand, while India had some sharp peaks, but also stumbled when consumers were hammered by different Covid waves.
The company continues to expand elsewhere in APAC, and has launched a variety of campaigns for its assortment of brands. Currently, Marriott has over 850 properties and more than 240,000 rooms operating across 24 brands in 25 Asia Pacific markets. In 2020, the chain celebrated its 800th hotel opening in the region, with 75 properties added to its portfolio during the year, extending its room inventory by nearly 27,000 rooms.
In addition, it signed up Marriott’s largest branded residences project, with close to 4,200 units in Vietnam. It expects to sustain or enhance this pace of property development In 2021 and 2022. It opened its 70th property in the Japan, Aloft Osaka Dojima, in June.
While travel and hospitality marketing leaders are used to dealing with seasonality of travel, the pandemic has forced them to strongly question the shorter-term relevance of their campaigns.
“You we want to be in front of customers with messages that are relevant to them,” Buiring contends. “It makes no sense for us to market aggressively in a city like Hong Kong, knowing that because of restrictions and regulations, very few people are currently contemplating travel.” Instead, during bi-weekly marketing investment meetings, “we adjust that performance-marketing spend and media buy, based on the demand indicators that we get.”
As Marriott seeks to operate in this volatile environment, Buiring says his team is leaning heavily on an assortment of data to keep its marketing campaigns current. For example, the chain keeps a keen eye on flight data to gauge not just popularity of specific properties, but also discern the source of travellers. “We've become much more localized," he says. "We operate in 24 countries, and Australia is not New Zealand, Thailand is not Vietnam, and Singapore is not Hong Kong. We make funds available to these respective markets for them to put messaging that is relevant to the audience in these markets, whether it's an email campaign, or above the line.”
Buiring’s challenge as the marketing head of a legacy hotel chain is to not just to keep pace with nimble rivals, but also ensure Marriott can follow increasingly digital-first happy habits of consumers. While upgrading its website and app is one way of being sticky, the company is also looking to extend partnerships like it signed with Uber, to make its properties available on a wider range of platforms.
Therefore, in APAC Marriott has partnered with Grab, Southeast Asia’s super app. Marriott International will integrate into Grab’s platform in phases across food delivery, payment, transport, loyalty and rewards, as well as advertising. It will also have access to Grab’s sizeable customer base via GrabFood, GrabPay, and GrabAds, enabling it to serve a growing pool of customers who are increasingly transacting online.