Building up a brand for the traveler
Having a dedicated and loyal team of staffff, as well as a reputable brand, is crucial to the continued growth of the Marriott group, hotelier Craig Smith tells Sophie He.
Dedicated staff, great cuisines and with a bigger focus on social media are the main criteria that will help ensure the Marriott group’s continued growth on the Chinese mainland, says Craig Smith, president and managing director for Asia Pacific of Marriott International.
The Marriott group today operates some 4,400 hotels around the globe, with plans to lift the tally to 5,700 after it completes the acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Smith told China Daily in an interview.
The company set foot on Hong Kong more than two decades ago, and JW Marriott Hong Kong was one of its first hotels to open in Asia. Across the Asia Pacific, about 205 hotels are currently in service under its flag.
“We grew very quickly on the Chinese mainland after we went in in the 1990s, and the mainland is probably our fastest growing market. We now have over 90 hotels across the border,” says Smith.
In his view, there’re two key aspects with China’s hotel industry — one is the business within the country, and the other is the value of Chinese travelers going out of China. Both international and domestic travelers on the mainland have offered plenty of business opportunities for Marriott.
According to Smith, the hotel business has grown very quickly in China and, in many cases lately, it’s growing faster than the GDP, as the middleclass is growing and, obviously, they now have more disposable money and want to travel for leisure, coupled with the fact that there are also a lot of business travelers in the country.
“We want to make sure we have our hotel brand and the hotels in the right place for the right people. Some may want the Ritz Carlton, some may want Marriott Hotel, and our goal is to offer many different brands to cater to different tastes,” he says.
On the other hand, the Chinese travel market has emerged as a huge business for the world, and there’re more Chinese traveling outside the country than Americans traveling outside the United States, according to Smith. So, it’s crucial that Chinese travelers know the Marriott brand and, hopefully, they know the other brands in China too so that they will trust that the brand they know will take care of them when they go abroad.
For Marriott, the number one strategy in China is to grow, its desire is to grow the business and it wants people to be loyal to its brand. To do that, Marriott needs to have loyal employees first.
“Our staff turnover is very low compared with our competitors — people who come to our company usually stay with us for a very long time, some for a lifetime. If you look at the resume of top executives in the hotel business, usually they would have worked for five to seven companies. But, if you look at the resume of someone working for Marriott, like me, I’ve already been with the group for 28 years. Obviously, this means I believe the company will take care of me and so I work harder,” explains Smith.
People would have different thoughts when and if they plan to stay with a company for a long time, he says, adding that when a position opens up at Marriott, its chief desire is to promote somebody within the company instead of hiring someone from elsewhere.
“The reason is that when we promote someone in the company, it will motivate other employees so that they know they’ll have a chance to continue to grow their careers,” says Smith, adding that it makes people want to work for Marriott and this helps Marriott to pick the best talent it needs.”
Another strategy in developing the group’s business in China is to ensure the quality of its food and beverages, he says, and hotels are striving to offer the right types of food in each city on the Chinese mainland. For instance, Marriott offers both Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine at its hotels in Shanghai, and Sichuan food with local characteristics in Sichuan province.
Marriott has also adjusted its strategies for the younger generation — the millennials — as their demands and tastes are quite different. And, although they are from different countries with different backgrounds, their focus and desire are more similar to each other than those of the older generation.
“For people of my age, they’ll go to a hotel and do their work in the room. But, the new generation prefers to work in the lobby. They sit at the table in the hotel lobby and, with people around, they have their earphones and enjoy that and they want to work as a team.”
So, hotels have to re-design the rooms to make the bathroom larger. The millennials also want everything on the internet or through apps, they want everything at their fingertips so hotels have to adjust to that, says Smith.
“We have rolled out programs that you can order room service, you can check in and check out on your phone. If you have a banquet event, instead of asking people to bring more coffee or something else to the room, you can type it in your app for this kind of service.”
In future, social media will become more and more important, Smith stresses, as 95 percent of people will go to social media websites to read about the reviews of the place they want to book before taking a trip.
With everything happening on the social media nowadays, one important thing for the hotel industry is that it must listen to their guests. The “new lobby today is social media”, Smith argues, adding that in the old days, when he was a general manager of a hotel, he would have to stand in the lobby in the evenings and mornings to talk to guests, to find out if they liked the hotel, how the food was and what improvements could be made.”
Today, nobody is doing that as travelers would just type it in on the social media website. So, if a manager wants to know what his guests think of his hotel, he or she should go to the website to read and respond to those comments. At Marriott, Smith says he would ask his managers to respond to comments on the social media within 48 hours.
“Meanwhile, we are datamining from all these social media websites to learn about what people think of our hotels. Then, we can compare that with our competitors, so we’ll know we have to renovate our hotel if our clients reckon that our competitor’s facilities are more fresh.”
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