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.

China Daily (USA) - - HONG KONG - Con­tact the writer at so­phiehe@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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.

Low staff turnover

“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.

All on the so­cial me­dia

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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