EMEA remains an important region for Marriott – Q&A with Satya Anand

Satya Anand, President EMEA, Marriott International

Satya Anand, President for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Marriott International, feels positive about the recovery of hospitality in the region and his group’s position in it. He discusses adapting to diverse geographies, new market conditions, and using the crisis to improve processes and offerings, ahead of the group’s participation to the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) on 1-3 September in Berlin.

Hospitality Insights: The EMEA region includes very diverse markets in different stages of growth or recovery. How do you adapt Marriott’s strategy to these different geographies, and which markets are you focusing on more than others?

Satya Anand: Primarily, localisation and personalisation are the foundational elements for how we adapt our business strategy across our EMEA markets. Spanning 74 countries and territories, and speaking more than 50 languages, our region is truly diverse, so we must tailor our approach across each market to stay locally relevant and meet our customers’ differing needs.

Having in-market teams is key to this as it’s their expertise and insight that enables us to tailor our strategy appropriately for each environment. Throughout the pandemic, our hotel teams have led with a forward-thinking approach and they continue to adapt by localising their offerings, depending on the market environment and customers’ needs.

While our brand and hotel offerings may differ across markets, there is one consistent commonality – Marriott Bonvoy, our award-winning loyalty programme. Providing more than 145 million members around the globe with exclusive benefits, unforgettable experiences, and world-class rewards across our 30 hotel brands, vacation rental homes and epic partnerships, Marriott Bonvoy is at the core of our business strategy and will play a critical role as we navigate the recovery.  

Just like our hotel offerings, it’s important that our Marriott Bonvoy partnerships are locally relevant to add value for and drive engagement with local customers. To ensure we can achieve this, our Loyalty & Partnership team continuously work hard to develop and grow the relevance of Marriott Bonvoy across each market.

At the same time, we continue to focus on bringing new hotel brands to EMEA, including Fairfield by Marriott. We recently launched the brand in Europe, and we are excited to see it come to life across the region. To ensure market relevance, the brand design has been developed specifically for Europe to meet continent market demands and procurement specifications. The design style is simple, timeless, and contemporary and our teams have taken creative cues from the heritage of the Fairfield story and fused these with a modern, calm, northern European aesthetic to bring together an effortlessly relaxed but super-efficient hotel design – delivering exactly what our guests need – and nothing they don’t.

As we look ahead, EMEA remains an important region as part of Marriott’s overall global growth strategy and we’ll continue to focus on building upon Marriott Bonvoy's portfolio of hotels – offering our members and guests new destinations and experiences – while ensuring our business strategy is locally relevant to each market and rightly positioned to gear us towards recovery.

Hospitality Insights: After over a year of Covid-related restrictions in Europe, what is keeping you positive for the future of the sector during this time?

Anand: One key factor that keeps me optimistic about the future is the world’s love for travel. We have faced many adversities throughout our 94-year history and, like the times before, we know that travel will return. We are witnessing positive signs of pent-up demand and, throughout the pandemic, certain markets have seen impressive results due to lifted restrictions and travel corridors. For example, when the UK / Dubai travel corridor was in place from November 2020, Dubai’s hotel occupancy levels reached around 70 per cent by the end of the year. More recently, we witnessed similar trends in Europe when the German government announced the travel corridor to Mallorca in time for the Easter holidays, bookings spiked to 300% over 2019 booking levels. The pent-up demand is there, and we’re confident that these trends will follow suit across other markets when restrictions are eased, travel corridors open and vaccinations roll-out further.

Another factor that we must consider is the longevity of virtual-only interactions. While we are all grateful for technology and the ability to see loved ones through a screen, you can’t beat face to face moments. We know our customers are excited to get back on the road; to visit their family and friends across the world, to enjoy a well-deserved getaway, to explore new, exciting destinations and experience new cultures – all of which the world of travel offers.

Finally, it’s our people that really drive positivity for the future of our industry. Their energy and dedication to reinspiring the world to travel again is truly uplifting and they do an incredible job to look after our guests every day. Our hotels continue to innovate, adapting to the current landscape and our continent office teams are constantly leading with new approaches to marketing and sales. The success of these innovations show that we have every reason to be optimistic about the future of travel.

Hospitality Insights: How are you approaching the leisure segment in EMEA?

Anand: As the travel industry continues to revive, it’s clear the leisure market will lead the recovery and we are heavily focusing our efforts towards this segment. In fact, recent research from Deloitte showed that across EMEA, leisure customers are increasingly planning to book a hotel stay over the next three months. Across EMEA, we are fortunate to have an incredible portfolio of hotels that are perfect for the leisure customer, so whether travellers are looking for a city break, a beach resort experience, or a staycation in a secluded setting, our hotels have the answer.

Our property teams have adapted their offerings where required, launched exciting new packages to meet upcoming trends, and created sought-after experiences for the leisure traveller. We’ve seen some fantastic examples across our region in the past few months, including the Jungle Bay Water Park at Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Waterpark and Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina – great for families to enjoy unforgettable experiences together at the resort itself. Additionally, the 18-hole mini golf course at Pine Cliffs, a Luxury Collection Resort in Algarve provides an activity for the whole family to enjoy.

Within the leisure landscape, we’ve seen the rise of multi-generational travel and it’s where our vacation rentals business, Homes & Villas by Marriott International, plays so nicely. We launched Homes & Villas in 2019, and we now have more than 28,000 amazing homes in 250 destinations around the globe, including 8,000 in EMEA. Our homes come with the assurance of the Marriott brand, and guests can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points.

Homes & Villas is also extremely attractive to consumers who are increasingly looking for space and privacy when they travel. The rising demand for privacy has been evident from the early stages of the pandemic and the Amex Global Travel Trend report revealed 75% of respondents agree that experiences that offer ultimate privacy is becoming a key sought-after feature of luxury travel. Many of our luxury resorts across EMEA offer secluded surroundings that truly meet the needs of privacy-conscious consumers, including Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai which offers private pools and stunning desert views from each room or suites. As we look ahead, we believe that creating privatised spaces is more important than ever across our luxury portfolio, and later this year, we are set to open W Rome, the first W Hotel in Italy, which will feature one of the largest and most spectacular E-WOW Suites the brand has ever created. This will include a stunning private terrace with 360-degree views across the city and a DJ area perfect for private gatherings.

At the same time, remote working is on the rise and we’re seeing the lines blur between business and leisure travel. Whether it’s for a couple of days per week, or longer, our hotel brands offer the solution for remote working. For example, our day, stay and play passes by Marriott Bonvoy are the answer for short term workspace. They enable our customers to work from our hotels – for a day, a one-night stay or a longer break with the family. The perfect blend of bleisure. Additionally, for long-term or permanent remote workers, our long-stay brands like Residence Inn by Marriott are becoming extremely popular, offering spacious suites with separate living, working, and sleeping zones that provide guests with the space and freedom to travel the way they like to live. It’s the perfect home away from home.

Hospitality Insights: How are you driving the recovery of brands that were relying primarily on the corporate segment?

Anand: With the leisure segment expected to return quicker, our hotels have repositioned their business models to focus on this important market, adapting their offerings and launching new services to meet the leisure customer needs. It’s clear the demand is there, and the leisure landscape will be critical for driving the business recovery.

At the same time, we are optimistic about the return of business travel. In May, a report by The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) showed that 74% of respondents feel their employees are ‘willing’ or ‘very willing’ to travel for business in the current environment, which creates optimism and momentum for the sector. This also tallies with what our global sales team hear – their recent report showed that 15% of our Corporate customers are open for travel now into Europe, with anticipation of an additional 67% in the next five months.

While large corporations may be slower to resume travel, smaller and medium-sized enterprises are eager to get back to it. To support these businesses as they return to corporate travel, we have introduced Marriott Bonvoy Business Ready – a programme designed to help EMEA’s small- and medium-sized companies get back on the road when they're ready to travel again across the region. 

Over the coming months, we will see business travel resume, but we'll also see the evolution of business travel with hybrid events, where elements of the event take place in person, as well as virtually. We're prepared to adapt and embrace these changes at our hotels, and many of our properties are already offering hybrid meeting and event spaces with state-of-the-art technology.   As part of our ‘Connect with Confidence’ framework, we have redefined our processes, reimagined our spaces to align with expert cleanliness and safety protocols, and offered our customers’ innovative solutions for meetings and events with our hotels and partners. From the virtual site inspections at the hotel, to the consultation with the designated Cleanliness Champion and the customised planning process, to the event execution, our customers will see our commitment to connecting them with confidence and meeting their specific needs.

Regardless of the virtual capabilities, our digital interactions can never replace the need for face to face. People crave connections and collaborate better when they are together, so it’s only a matter of time for corporate travel to come back. When our corporate customers are ready to travel again, we look forward to welcoming them back at our hotels.

Hospitality Insights: How are you positioning your brand portfolio to seize opportunities in conversions?

Anand: As a company, we are witnessing an uptick in conversion opportunities, particularly from independent hotels, and we believe our conversion brands will benefit many independent hoteliers in the post-pandemic business environment.

We have developed a conversion-friendly strategy for existing hotels to meet owner and guest demands. Our conversion brands such as The Luxury Collection, Autograph Collection, Design Hotels and Tribute Portfolio allow smaller, unique hotels to keep their own identity and personality while pulling into our powerful distribution, sales and loyalty platforms. Looking at our global Q1 results, we added over 23,500 rooms to our global hotel portfolio – in which 31% came from conversions. This was the highest per cent in any quarter over the past six years and we are confident that our conversion activity will remain strong.

Hospitality Insights: How are your relations with owners and partners evolving?

Anand: Throughout the pandemic, we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our owners, taking steps to lessen the financial burden that has been caused by COVID-19. We continue to stand side by side with them, and in particular, we are using our voice in the industry around the globe in the appropriate local regulatory forums to lobby for recovery initiatives that ease the burden on our owners and franchisees. 

Over the past 12 months, we’ve had the opportunity to relook at how we work, discover areas that we could modify and learn more about effective approaches for the future. We’ve evolved and simplified our processes to ensure we work in the most effective way with our owners and partners – now and in the future.

We're very aware of the current economic climate, and we're taking a long-term view on our commercial terms and standards. Clearly, at this time, if we have a hotel converting to one of our brands, we're going to very thoughtful on the property improvement plan and its phasing, especially when cash is critical in this landscape. We think it's this type of pragmatism, combined with our portfolio of compelling brands, that makes Marriott International very attractive to the owner community. 

Hospitality Insights: What are your looking forward to with regards to your participation to IHIF?

Anand: IHIF is always an event I look forward to, and even more so this year as it’s one the first face to face industry events in Europe since before the pandemic. I am excited to connect and catch up with colleagues I haven’t seen in person for a long time, and to network with several of our valued owners and hospitality partners. I am also delighted to be welcoming Marriott International’s CEO, Tony Capuano, to this year’s IHIF and I know it will be a great boost for our industry across Europe.

Marriott International is a Patron Sponsor of the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF),taking place on 1-3 September in Berlin.