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Marriott EVP Linnartz: Managing Loyalty Through Virtual And Real Experiences

Tech can’t replace ‘experiences,’ says Stephanie Linnartz, Global Chief Commercial Officer at Marriott, but it can offer guests helpful shortcuts.

Marriott Stephanie Linnartz (left) talks with NYT’s T Brand Studio content strategy head Katie Manderfield.

The breadth of Marriott International’s global reach is both a strength and challenge: managing loyalty programs and seamlessly operating digital touchpoints across 6,000 hotels in 122 countries from 30 brands including JW Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, The Edition (pictured above in Miami), can be daunting.

On top of that, Marriott is also in the midst of completing the integration of its $13.6 billion merger with former rival Starwood Hotels.

In a conversation at last week’s Millennial 2020 conference, Stephanie Linnartz Global Chief Commercial Officer & EVP, told’ Katie Manderfield, Director of Content Strategy,New York Times’ T Brand Studio, that the uses of technology to drive loyalty is always a moving target for hospitality brands.

Loyalty is also among the top priorities the company faces in managing its merger with Starwood.

As a mark that Marriott appears to be moving in the right direction, Linnartz cited a mention by Fast Company last month that touted the hotel brand’s loyalty program — the only brick-and-mortar destination to be mentioned — as one of the 10 most innovative in the travel space.

“Ever since we announced the deal with Starwood last year, whenever I go to a cocktail party, or I’m at one of my kids’ soccer events, the first thing that someone asks is, ‘What’s going to happen to my [Starwood Preferred Guest] points?'” Linnartz said “We are so excited about our ability to advance the idea of loyalty in the hospitality space. And we are laser-focused on it. We’ve made sure that people can link their account and transfer points. We’ve had millions of people link their accounts, billions of points transferred from SPG to Marriott Rewards, and Ritz Carleton Rewards — and we’re only six months in.”

Tech and The Guest Experience

The other main challenge for hospitality brands these days comes down to reaching Millennials. While consumers of all ages have started to consider hotel-alternatives like Airbnb, Linnartz said that hotels need to concentrate on offering a broader range of personalized experiences.

Those experiences aided and supplemented by technology, she added.

“We have spent a lot of time focusing on how we use technology to enhance the guest experience,” Linnartz said. “And we’re clear that we’re not doing so to replace human being beings. Digital is everywhere and some things are going to be just table stakes.”

Among the table stakes involving the use of tech by Marriott involves rolling out mobile check in and check out, using a smartphone as a room key. But that’s not where it ends, she noted.

“At some point, everyone will do that stuff, so when it comes to technology, we’re trying to think, ‘What do we do to really have a true competitive advantage?'” Linnartz said. “Using technology and partnerships is a way we can I think, do that. We’re exploring a lot of things on that front.”

Manderfield and Linnartz

Marriott’s Beacon Expansion

One of the tech areas Marriott International began exploring last year involved the use of beacons. As we reported in September, Marriott’s installation of beacons went from 21 hotels in the fall to 500 by the end of 2016.

More Marriott properties will also deploy beacons this year, Linnartz said.

“We’re trying to make sure we do it in a way that ensures consumers see value in it,” she said. “We see beacons as a way to make an offer that is meaningful, at the right time. Because a guest has to opt-in to it, we know they’re not feeling intruded upon.”

The use of beacons to further the goals of presenting personalized service to guests also goes to debates all major brands are having about being able to use Big Data to predict what consumers will want.

“As we try to create custom experiences, the question we all have to answer is ‘How do we balance giving people what they expect with offering them things that they don’t even know they want?'” Linnartz said.

“It’s possible to go too far in trying to predict what a consumer wants,” she said. “We know that the way to truly differentiate ourselves means having people experience new, exciting, and unexpected things. That’s a hallmark of travel and it’s something our brands strive to embody and reflect.”