Marriott Eyes Rewards, All-Inclusives in Cautious Travel Rebound

Jessica Wong

If thinking about Marriott International conjures the skyscraping Marquis flagship in New York’s Times Square, with its supersonic bubble elevators currently presiding over a dark Broadway, it would be easy to assume that the company faces a bleak near-term future. Indeed, parts of that company’s business are still struggling to find footing […]

If thinking about Marriott International conjures the skyscraping Marquis flagship in New York’s Times Square, with its supersonic bubble elevators currently presiding over a dark Broadway, it would be easy to assume that the company faces a bleak near-term future. Indeed, parts of that company’s business are still struggling to find footing amid a travel slowdown that has lasted more than a year.

At the Marquis, 800 jobs were eliminated around the year-end holidays. As a whole, Marriott International suffered its worst year in recent history in 2020. It also lost its visionary chief executive officer, Arne Sorenson, to pancreatic cancer.

But for Marriott, as for much of the travel industry, things are turning up, and pockets of opportunity are becoming clearer. Shortly after the announcement of its new CEO, Anthony Capuano, in mid-February, shares for the company rose to $157.50 and have since remained steady—a sharp departure from where things stood in May 2020, when they were just above $75.    

“It’s hard to make predictions about what will come next,” says Tina Edmundson, Marriott’s global brand officer, who adds that travel has evolved in the past year, from an indulgence to “a primal need.”

Expanding Beyond Hotels

Currently, Edmundson is shepherding the growth of a new sector devoted to rental homes called Marriott Homes and Villas, which debuted in 2019 as a far-cry competitor to Airbnb Inc. What started as a portfolio of 2,000 homes has grown to more than 25,000. (Airbnb maintains about 7 million rentals on its site.)

A Marriott rental home in Park CIty, Utah. 

Source: Marriott Homes and Villas

Edmundson frames the foray as less an attempt to rival Brian Chesky’s home-sharing unicorn and more about extending the ability to earn and redeem loyalty rewards in any travel scenario. “The goal is to really fill out our portfolio of options for our members,” she explains. “It’s not our desire to have millions of homes. It’s our desire to have a curated portfolio.”

Edmundson says Homes and Villas was “certainly advantageous” over the last 14 months, when privacy became the amenity with the greatest premium. “But on balance, we have 7,500 hotels, so it’s not anywhere near the scale of our true core product.” Rather than help the company weather the storm, it was a way to keep its Bonvoy members engaged while they were otherwise unable to travel.

All-Inclusives Go Luxe

Many think of all-inclusive resorts in four letter words. But these offerings have long been evolving, with even the main players—such as Club Med and Paradisius—finding ways to attract the next generation of travelers.

relates to Marriott Eyes Rewards, All-Inclusives in Cautious Travel Rebound

A Sunwing resort in the Caribbean. The brand sold 19 of its Blue Diamond resorts to Marriott in a recent deal.

Source: Sunwing Travel Group

Marriott is joining their cause. The acquisition of 19 Blue Diamond Resorts around the Caribbean represents more than 7,000 new hotel rooms for the company; Edmundson says the aim is to have 33 resorts by 2025.

The acquired resorts will be converted into all-inclusive versions of Ritz-Carlton, Luxury Collection, and Westin, among other Marriott luxury brands. “When you think about a Ritz-Carlton all-inclusive, I don’t want you to think about an all-inclusive, I want you to think of an amazing Ritz that happens to be inclusive of every desire you might have,” she explains. “There’s some negativity around that space, but we are setting out to craft and curate something that doesn’t exist.”

relates to Marriott Eyes Rewards, All-Inclusives in Cautious Travel Rebound

A non-Marriott all-inclusive in Antigua, Carlisle Bay.

Source: Carlisle Bay

Of course, it does exist: All-inclusive resorts such as Jumby Bay and Carlisle Bay in Antigua cost upward of $1,300 a night in exchange for a vacation in which you never have to think about being nickel-and-dimed. But they are few and far between.

Each all-inclusive, Edmundson adds, will have brand extensions that relate to its parent’s roots: Westin will be the wellness-oriented all-inclusive, for example. The challenge will be educating anyone unfamiliar with these draws—and convincing guests to generally stay put on a resort, rather than using it as a home base for self-designed explorations. 

A Touch-and-Go 2021

Travelers are currently caught between a strong desire to cross things off bucket lists while needing to navigate ongoing border restrictions. That pull, she says, encouraged people to book more “drive-to” trips before learning that the EU would soon admit entry to certain vaccinated travelers.

The Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri, America

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the type of second city destination that Edmundson says is seeing extra demand in 2021.

Photographer: joe daniel price/Moment RF

“The drive market will last through the year,” she predicts, speaking of both Europe and the U.S. “I think that as borders open up, it’s going to be restrictive still for a little while, given the extra hassle of Covid tests and vaccine passports.”

All this is encouraging the discovery of second cities, says Edmundson, and will give mountain and resort destinations continued importance for another year. She cites unmatched off-season business in places from Aspen, Colo., to Deer Valley, Utah, where summer bookings are pacing 97% ahead of last year, driven by strong transient demand.

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