Sure, Marriott was just named the top hotel company in Fast Company’s “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” issue—but it is not resting on its laurels. From shared living rooms to technology links to Apple’s Siri, the combined Marriott/Starwood is set to debut unique customer-facing offerings that are likely to keep it in the running for next year’s award.
Toni Stoeckl, global brand leader and vice president of Distinctive Select Brands, told TMR this week that 20 rooms at the Seaport Aloft in Boston already are equipped to enable Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator,” to help guests, well, navigate their way around the hotel room. Guests can speak to her through an iPhone or iPad; just say, “Hey, Siri, turn on the TV,” and it will happen.
“Aloft is our tech incubator,” said Stoeckl, who oversees the brand along with Element, AC and Moxy. And while “people love it,” Marriott expects a slow rollout, “probably in six months or so,” as it wants to make sure the technology works perfectly before deploying it broadly.
But not all innovation is technological—sometimes it’s just human. The Element brand is launching an equally interesting first in the hotel industry, “a whole new room concept, a communal guest room” where up to five individual guest rooms open into a central living room with a kitchenette and a big TV and a pool table.
It’s perfect for small groups—families, bachelor parties, even co-workers traveling together and “looking for a shared environment rather than having to all go into one room or to the public space to hang out together.”
The idea was developed in the Marriott Innovation Lab and tested by focus groups of leisure and business travelers, property owners and travel agents.
“We felt it was important to get feedback from the travel agency community because they are often the voice of our brand to the consumer, the ones who tell our story to their clients,” Stoeckl said. “Travel agents are our eyes and ears in many ways, and their feedback is really helpful.”
While Marriott is still “currently analyzing all that feedback, it is so positive that we’re planning to have them in all Element hotels,” Stoeckl said. “You’ll start to see them toward the end of the year.”
Meanwhile, the AC and Moxy brands have their own forms of innovation. At European-style AC hotels, the focus is on making the first meal of the day something extraordinary—with prosciutto sliced fresh as guests order it and croissants imported from France rather than Costco. And at the trendy Moxy properties, it’s more about fun. Check in at the bar and watch for everything from pajama parties to tattoo artists in the lobby in the evening.
In short, Stoeckl said, “brands have to be unique and memorable.”