Marriott International is continuing its aggressive expansion outside the United States. Between April 1 and July 2 this year, Marriott is opening 100 hotels, worth $1.2 billion.
"Our focus has always been on growth, and this exciting milestone brings us even closer to the company's year-end goal of 3,000 hotels worldwide," said J.W. Marriott Jr, chairman and chief executive officer, Marriott International.
In interviews with Business Traveller magazine, both Mr Marriott and Ed Fuller, president & managing director, international lodging, have confirmed that the company is focused on expanding a selection of hotel brands. At present Marriott International has a total of 17 brands, though only nine have been seen outside the US. Marriott insists that travellers appreciate the difference between these brands.
"We survey travellers around the world, and they seem to understand and appreciate the differences," he says, while admitting that, "at its most simple, all a business traveller wants is no surprises. They need to know that the service is going to be friendly, that they can connect to the world outside, read your emails, and that the place will be a home from home."
Marriott International has three luxury brands: Ritz Carlton, Bulgari and JW Marriott. The Bulgari brand is certainly a slow burner, with properties in Milan and Bali only. The other two, however, are expanding extremely quickly, with London about to see its first JW Marriott in the form of Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel, which is reaching the end of its £100 million restoration. The hotel is well know to business travellers for both its Great Room and the Ball Room, making up over 50,000 sq ft of banqueting space - the Great Room was originally an ice rink and the 20 meeting rooms are able to accommodate between 10 and 400 delegates at 86 Park Lane.
The JW Marriott brand is little known to travellers in Europe at present, but that is set to change says Ed Fuller. "There are currently 14 [brands] in the US, and 22 outside the US, but we have 12 JW Marriotts about to open."
Describing the brand as "approachable luxury" he says that the aim is for the hotels to allow guests to enjoy the grandeur of the facilities in a comfortable setting, and with a friendly and open attitude exhibited by the staff.
The expansion of Marriott brands continues, with Fuller saying that the company is focused on "large, full service hotels outside the US". Recent announcements have included 16 new hotels in the UAE by 2010, and a big expansion in China.
"In 1996 we had no hotels in China," says Fuller, "Now we have over 34 with another 19 under construction. Some 30 million Chinese travelled last year, with one third going to Hong Kong and Macau, one third Australasia, and one third being more adventurous."
In addition, Marriott is keen to be seen as a global rather than an American brand. "We are becoming global by strategy," is how Fuller puts it, adding that only "17 per cent of our customers worldwide are American, 40 per cent of construction is outside the US, we are now in 68 countries worldwide and there are more full service hotels being built outside the US than within it."
In the UK there will also be new openings for the new-look Marriott Courtyard brand, the first example of which will be seen at Gatwick South Terminal in 2008.
"The properties are for national and regional guests and have been designed to fit in with the local market, so there are five regional prototypes. Destination carries the day."
Regional variations would include the Courtyards in the Middle East and Asia having Executive Lounges, for instance.
For more information, visit marriott.com.
Report by Tom Otley