When Marriott International recently announced its new “Club Marriott” programme in India (read about it here), we were happy to discover a host of pan-India and pan-Asia perks and privileges for business travellers.
We caught up with the senior management of Marriott International in India to give us some perspective on this new Club Marriott programme. In a freewheeling chat, I sat down with Neeraj Govil, Area Vice President, South Asia, Marriott International and Ralph Frehner, Vice President, Food & Beverage, Asia-Pacific, Marriott International, to gain some insights on the business objectives of this new programme. Read my chat here.
Tell us the reason for launching the new Club Marriott programme. What was lacking in the previous format?
Neeraj Govil: So essentially, we ran the club Marriott program for a number of years and it was very successful program in India and the Asia Pacific. The former Starwood had a program called Eat, Drink & More. So we have Marriott Rewards and Club Marriott and they had SPG and Eat, Drink & More. The new Club Marriott is essentially a F&B loyalty programme. What we did was, we combined the two programmes. We got the best of both worlds into the programme and we are relaunching it, in its new avatar. This will be called Club Marriott 2018.
So what’s new then?
Neeraj Govil: What it essentially does is, you buy the programme at a particular hotel and it’ll give you a series of benefits at that particular hotel. The exciting part now, especially for business travellers, is that this card will not just be a nice card that you stick in your wallet. As you travel on business across the Asia Pacific region, it’ll give you discounts at over 250 participating hotels across 13 counties, 16 different brands of the company. So it’s a Pan Asia-Pacific dining programme, and pan brand as well.
So this is essentially a loyalty programme and not just a discount programme, then?
Neeraj Govil: Yes! If you look at most dining card programmes, they are usually discount programmes. We are saying here that there’s a heavy dose of personalisation, getting member-only events curated at different locations. You’ll only get into these events by invite only, because you’re a Club Marriott member. And there’s a recognition for the consumer when they come in for F&B. There is a pan-brand appeal and lots of customised experiences. For business travellers, this is ideal. You have the comfort of knowing that you’re going to a reliable brand and you get recognition and you can get the benefits of the program.
Let’s get more into the details of the food & beverage offering?
Ralph Frehner – Food and beverage of our company resembles about 45% of the total business today and so, for me, one of the focus points is creating the food and beverage reputation for the company in Asia-Pacific. Actually, leading by India because in India food is obviously very important. We wanted to create favourable destinations where the local people meet and eat drink. We wanted to really focus on the local authentic food in our hotels and have a more free standing approach in terms of restaurants and bars. So we went away from the usual hotel set up a little bit. We decided to connect hotels today to the local community. We have the international business travelers who engage with social media so they know where the local people eat, they go there, etc.
Are you implying a huge focus change?
Ralph Frehner: Yes, we had a big focus change. It is important because, once you’re loyal to a hotel, we also want to make sure that you get the same experience everywhere else you travel and then you have access to exclusive events. For example, when we had a concert of Imagine Dragons in Bangkok, if you had a Club Marriott card, you got invited to it. And to promote this, we have different media campaigns and different markets. We are also looking at chef workshops, and we invite some of the members so they know what’s happening. We look at doing something different from what our competitor hotels do, and that’s where we take advantage of creating those food and beverage moments for our customers.
From a marketing standpoint, I would like to know if your focus is rather on kind of gratifying your existing customers and enhancing their experience as opposed to pulling in and roping in new customers. In which direction is the balance tipped?
Neeraj Govil – Our growth in the country is phenomenal at the moment. We opened 17 hotels this year. We’ll open close to 20 next year. We’ll be kidding ourselves if we think we can sustain that growth with existing customers. Yes your loyalty is important we would like you to keep coming back and staying with us so there’s a big bit of gratifying our existing customer base, but we have to get new members and programmes like this help us to go out and attract these new members. So it’s front and centre to our strategy, we are opening exciting F&B at our hotels and upgrading at a lot of hotels and adding new outlets, a lot of embellishments around food and beverage. This program will help us position this product in the market place so we need more members and we need to make sure that our existing member base sees value in the program.
While there is this whole client base, theres also a small niche of client that needs something a little more exlcusive like an ultra HNI segment that needs like a by-invite-only that’s different from the rest, do you have something like that?
Neeraj Govil – So, as part of this programme like Ralph articulated some time ago, we will have member specials that are by-invite-only. As part of the programme, we will understand what your preferences are, what customers actually want and where they see value in. Personalisation and curation of events will be unique to your taste. If you’re not a big fan of cricket, we wont invite you to a game or an event. If you’re into fashion, we’ll probably curate something to that need of yours. But ideally if you look at it, it’s all about personalisation. It’s about finding out what ticks for you and then making sure that you get an invite to that. That exclusivity is important. Yes you need money to buy the card, it’s a paid program but that experience will come to you only once you have that card. There will be member events that aren’t open to the public.
Even within the existing members there will be a certain section that will be by invite only?
Neeraj Govil: Yes.
Ralph Frehner – We also look at different experiences in the hotel not just food and beverages because all of our hotels have some areas like the spa, etc. which aren’t always open to the local customers. So the membership will help you to get access to the restricted sections as well. We want this to become a local loyalty program. And when I say local, we want customers to come and visit the hotel because it’s a place they want to be at. Food and Beverages big part of that. But spas, fitness centres, are all a part of that. So usage of the facility is a huge part of this.
Ralph Frehner- Just to add on the experience of the local customers that every hotel you sign up with, the home hotel decides on the benefits. And that’s why the range of prices vary a little bit. It’s also luxury verses premium hotels. But they are all equally important for us but its not like one programme fits all. When we talk about local, we are not just a one-sided programme, we are much more. It gives you a range of going anywhere in the Asia Pacific region.
For more information, www.clubmarriott.in