JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa.
Marriott is responding to travel agent concerns that its future structure of having a single sales force to represent all eight of its luxury brands will dilute some of its top-level brands such as Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis and The Luxury Collection.
In an exclusive interview with TMR at ILTM in Cannes, global officer digital, distribution, revenue management and global sales Brian King said the structure will actually help retail travel agents do a better job serving their clients. Agents were specifically concerned that their reps would not be able to keep up with a portfolio of 363 luxury properties, with an additional 180 in the pipeline.
King said that won’t be the case. For example, a travel agent in Chicago with questions about luxury hotels in Venice would contact his local Marriott luxury rep. That rep will now have a counterpart in a Milan office with detailed information about all of Marriott’s luxury options, and while some agents may not consider JW Marriott at the same level as The Luxury Collection, having one sales contact will provide the agent with a broader range of luxury options across its eight luxury brands.
King called what the company is going to do with STARS, Luxury Privileges and Accolades, a loyalty program for agents introduced by Autograph Collection earlier this year, “a riddle we need to solve.”
He also told TMR he sees expanding advisory boards for its luxury group and brands with more regional and country boards to get a better grasp on the cultural differences in how travel is purchased in different parts of the world.
Most of all, King said he is acutely aware of longstanding relationships between agents and their Ritz-Carlton and Starwood luxury reps. “These relationships mean a lot,” he said. In terms of moving forward, he noted that until the merger was completed 69 days ago, Marriott didn’t have access to Starwood account reps. Since that point they have been crunching data, including 12.4 million B2B records of travel agents, corporate accounts and meeting planners with the goal of ensuring accounts continue to get the same level of coverage and support.