We’ve seen a lot of press coverage on the Marriott brand over the past couple of months, everything from the Starwood merger, to how the Starwood Marriott loyalty programmes will work, to announcements about new hotel openings from Athens, Oman and everywhere in-between, and the usual run of the mill news such as donations and giveaways. But most recently Marriott was in the news for the unveiling of its’ ‘M Beta’ property – a hotel-based innovation lab located in Charlotte city-centre.
So, what is it and is it a worthwhile ‘experiment’? M Beta is described as an innovation lab that enables “rapid prototyping” of anything from keyless entry to the latest technology in the property’s gym. While all that sounds interesting, is really worthwhile to implement such a wide scale project? We already know, from various studies, research, reputable sources and from other industries that people want to use their phone to practically do almost everything. We know that luxuries that once appealed to all travellers are no longer as attractive, instead ease of convenience and instant gratification are the focus – and we know that no-frills technology plays a big role in delivering this. The majority of travellers want an abundance of Wi-Fi hotspots and would like to see greater automation of hotel services; over half wanting to use their mobile device to receive bills (58%), check-in (54%), checkout (57%), pay for hotel services (51%), and open their hotel room door (50%). 2016 Cognizant Travel Survey.
Even 5 years ago we knew that there was more mobile phones on the planet than TVs; that it takes 26 hours for the average person to report a lost wallet but only 68 minutes for them to report a lost phone and that 91% of all U.S. citizens have their mobile device within reach 24/7. So, what’s all the hype about all M beta? Is it just a big marketing ploy from a major brand with no actual new outcomes on what we already know about what the guest wants?
Well, in 2014, Amadeus and Fast Future got together and released a report entitled ‘Hotels 2020 – Beyond Segmentation’. Involving players from different industries across global, the report revealed some interesting stats;
- 96% expected that ‘in the face of intense global competition, the hotel industry will develop a strong focus on strategy and innovation – adopting approaches such as crowd sourcing and open innovation to generate new ideas.’
- 96% agreed that ‘hotels will need to develop strong social media ‘listening skills’ to understand how customer needs and perceptions of brands and service quality are truly evolving and to develop service propositions, marketing messages, and pricing solutions that reflect the needs of an increasingly diverse customer base.’ And,
- 81% felt ‘hotels will increasingly experiment with a range of business models.
At the heart of it, the report said that hotels must embrace extreme personalization and become ‘living innovation laboratories’ to survive the turbulent decade ahead.
So while on the surface, M Beta might seem like a pointless exercise Marriott’s test lab approach could be a beacon of market research to come. While many hotels are slowly embracing technology to meet consumer demands, Marriott currently seems to be the only such brand to become a “living innovation laboratories” and conduct actual onsite research concerning the guest of tomorrow and the technology needed to deliver the service guests expect, or haven’t even anticipated yet.
In addition, they are doing something quite clever – instead of putting services out for tender and entering a usually long and tedious process to find the right supplier in a somewhat new hotel technology supplier environment, they are inviting travel technology start-ups to prove their product or service within a hotel. “The most exciting thing…is the idea that entrepreneurs can learn from us and we can learn from them: combining their agility and creativity with our tools and hospitality expertise could be a powerful force in enhancing the guest experience.” – Osama Hirzalla, Marriott International’s VP Brand Marketing & eCommerce Europe.
M beta is also only one in a long list of Marriott initiatives – they set up their Travelbrilliantly website 3 years about to encourage guests to contribute ideas on how to improve and provide immediate feedback on services and technology provided within their hotels. And while an increasing number of companies are “listening in” to customers’ public conversations on social media as a way to better engage with them and increase their brand presence and awareness, Marriott again took one step further with M Live. With the use of a technology called geo-fencing and a team that operates around the clock, they can see and respond to every public posting on a social-media platform done from within their properties. The company said that the ‘simple’ one-on-one engagement translates directly into hotel bookings. – With so much digital discovery and engagement with guests, one has to wonder what else Marriott might have in the works.
We know that the hotel of the future needs to be more personal, connected and responsive – and Marriott is one major brand that, through the use of innovate technologies (and on a large scale) is determined to understand each guest’s requirement, no matter where they might be in their stay experience and also cater to those needs within a timeframe and via a medium the guest expects.