Marriott International and Starwood Hotels and Resorts are to merge.

The combined company will operate or franchise more than 5,500 hotels with 1.1 million rooms worldwide.

The $12.2 billion deal will see Starwood’s portfolio of brands (which can be seen here) join Marriott’s own brand portfolio (which can be seen here).

Marriott said it “expects to accelerate the growth of Starwood’s brands”.

The Marriott Rewards loyalty programme has 54 million members, and Starwood Preferred Guest has 21 million members. “They should be even stronger when the companies merge,” according to a Marriott statement.

It is likely that all the hotel brands will be retained, but at some point in the future Starwood Preferred Guest will merge into Marriott Rewards – probably to be called Starwood Rewards.

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, said: “The driving force behind this transaction is growth. This is an opportunity to create value by combining the distribution and strengths of Marriott and Starwood, enhancing our competitiveness in a quickly evolving marketplace.

“This greater scale should offer a wider choice of brands to consumers, improve economics to owners and franchisees, increase unit growth and enhance long-term value to shareholders. Today is the start of an incredible journey for our two companies.”

Adam Aron, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide CEO on an interim basis, added: “We are excited to play a vital role in the creation of the biggest and best hotel company in the world with tremendous upside potential.

“The combination of our two companies brings together the best in innovation, culture and execution.

“Our guests and customers will benefit from so many more options across 30 hotel brands, while our hotel owners and franchisees will derive value from our combined global platform and efficiencies.”

Starwood has been widely rumoured to be for sale in recent weeks. Last month, it was reported that Hyatt was in talks to buy the group (see news, October 28).