The pandemic has changed the hospitality industry significantly, forcing hotels to adapt quickly to survive. Despite the challenges, the industry has prioritised sustainability and is moving towards greener initiatives. Outlook Traveller recently interviewed Ramesh Daryanani, Vice President of Global Sales for Asia Pacific at Marriott International, to discuss the industry's evolution and how it is responding to its challenges. Excerpts from the interview:
What changes have you observed in travellers' preferences and behaviours, particularly in the Asia Pacific region, following the pandemic?
Based on what I'm seeing, the demand for luxury resort destinations and wellness experiences is vital in the leisure travel industry, with travellers also exploring new destinations and trying high-end restaurants and bars. Despite high airfares, people still travel, and destinations with easier visa requirements are more attractive. Business travel is recovering beyond 2019, with increased foreign direct investment and outbound travel for corporate companies. Incentivising teams and hosting leadership meetings are in high demand for conferences and events or groups, although some groups are being split due to flight capacity and visa restrictions.
How has Marriott International adapted its MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) offerings to meet the changing demands of customers in the current and post-pandemic market?
Marriott International has adapted its mice offerings to meet changing customer demands in the post-pandemic world. Their "Spark This Moment" campaign offers personalised, flexible options for travel purposes, such as fueling growth, rebuilding relationships, or exploring local cuisine. They also focus on sustainability and community engagement, offering close to 100 options in Asia Pacific. Customers can choose from these pillars to elevate their meeting experience rather than a standard package.
How does Marriott measure the success of its sustainability initiatives, and what specific metrics does the company use? Are there particular parameters or considerations that Marriott considers before determining the success of its sustainability efforts?
We have set a goal to reduce our carbon footprint by 2025 and are measuring our progress against several metrics. These include reducing water usage by 15 per cent, carbon intensity by 30 per cent, landfill waste by 45 per cent, and food waste by 50 per cent. These metrics are measured at every hotel monthly, and our general managers have goals against them that roll up into our CEO's targets. We are also focused on getting at least 100 per cent of our hotels' sustainability certified, and we have identified 650 hotels that will apply for LEED certification. In fact, we currently have close to 400 EV charging stations in our hotels around the Asia Pacific, where electric cars can be charged. At our events, we use sustainable and recyclable materials, and our themes are focused on sustainability.
What role do you see advanced technologies like AI playing in the future of the hospitality industry? Have you leveraged any digital technologies at Marriott International to enhance customer engagement?
At Marriott, we believe that AI is a fascinating topic. However, our approach is to explore and closely analyse it before rushing into it. It still needs some time before we can say that AI has legs for the future to change what we do in the hospitality space.
On the other hand, technology, in general, is driving a lot of the transformation we're seeing today within Marriott. It helps us move more personalisation for our customers and create greater efficiencies at our hotels, which, in turn, will help drive top-line revenue. Therefore, we are heavily investing in upgrading our technology platforms, and technology is a significant part of our growth plans and our future state.
What are the main trends and challenges the hospitality industry may encounter in the next 5 to 10 years?
The hospitality industry faces significant challenges, including a talent shortage, evolving technology, and meeting sustainability standards. These challenges are not unique to the hospitality industry and are faced by many other industries. However, they are essential for the hospitality industry as customer expectations constantly evolve, and hotels must keep up with these changes to remain competitive. Another challenge is keeping up with evolving technology and sustainability standards. In today's world, customers expect hotels to provide the latest technology, whether smart room features or mobile check-in options.
What strategies did Marriott implement to maintain customer loyalty and engagement during the pandemic, and can you describe one or two of the most successful strategy?
One of the critical areas of focus for the hospitality industry is growing loyal members across loyalty programs, with close to 180 million members currently enrolled. The industry is finding innovative ways to keep customers engaged, including online interactions, and allowing members to use their loyalty points for experiences and activities beyond traditional hotel stays. During the pandemic, the industry accelerated the ability for customers to earn, redeem, and burn their points in real-time, even while dining in hotel restaurants. Additionally, Marriott has launched new lines of business, such as credit cards in China, Korea, Japan, and soon in India, to capture customers who may not be travelling but are still consuming goods and services.
As an experienced professional in the hospitality industry, what advice or key checkpoints would you suggest for upcoming professionals to advance their careers?
A passion for the work is essential for aspiring individuals in the hospitality industry. Choosing a company that can provide access to global experiences and opportunities is also crucial. Finding a good mentor can also be incredibly helpful in establishing a solid foundation and guiding you in the right direction. Lastly, gaining experience across all disciplines and departments can make you a well-rounded leader for the future.
Can you talk about some of the initiatives and projects Marriott International undertook to support local communities and make a positive social impact?
Marriott has implemented several initiatives to support social and environmental responsibility, including Good Travel by Marriott, which offers guests close to 100 initiatives. Marriott's Business Council implements these initiatives to support NGOs or communities aligned with Marriott's values. For instance, Marriott supports Smile, a charity in Chennai, and worked with farmers in Thailand during the pandemic to help them sell their produce to Marriott hotels. Marriott is committed to supporting communities and will continue to do so.
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