Tina Edmundson from Marriott International straddles several different worlds. The somewhat chaotic world of India, where she grew up, travels to three to four times a year (2020 has been an exception) and where she has her cultural bearings, for one. And the US where she has worked, first with Starwood Hotels & Resorts and then with Marriott International, imbibing its work culture, which is fiercely competitive and yet highly innovative.
Edmundson in conversation with Peter J. Bates, President & Founder of Strategic Vision, on what it will take to survive the COVID ordeal, how luxury hotels have responded to the pandemic and why Marriott continues on the acquisition route to grow the brand.
While the entire interview can be viewed via the link posted at the top of the article, for those who love their videos to be quick and to-the-point, we present shorter byte-sized versions below.
Innovating new ideas
Staycations, Work from Anywhere, Flexi Check-in times, Stay and Play Passes, Travel Pods…there are many new concepts hotels are experimenting with, concepts that will transform hospitality forever.
Communicating the right message to guests
There is a marked increase in the focus on hygiene and safety, in-room dining and private meals. Luxury travellers are spending a higher amount on accommodation and booking the highest of room categories. Hotels will have to communicate the crucial message of safety and hygiene. Edmundson believes that hotels will need to have a constant finger on the pulse as travel opens, and understand the macro trends as they evolve.
How luxury hotels have responded to pandemic-led disruptions
The good news is: across the US, only 5% of Marriott hotels remain shut, although Europe has over 18 to 20% properties that have yet to open. But as she says, that may change as government regulations evolve. “Besides government policies, we are tracking an owner’s financial situation and the micro-geographic reality before we re-open more hotels.” For now, luxury residential hotels and select-service hotels have witnessed a quick revival as the drive holiday market picks up speed.
Re-onboarding and retraining Marriott associates
Significantly, worldwide most of Marriott associates who had been furloughed as the pandemic unfolded, have been brought back on the rosters. “We are past the re-onboarding stage. We are now retraining them for the new reality. We are drawing inspiration from other industries, such as retail and restaurants which have been particularly hit and are innovating new ideas.”
The Marriott culture
“We put associates first and it is a culture that permeates through the organization,” she emphasizes. It reflects in the impeccable service culture that Marriott fosters.
The irresistible desire to travel
“Travel is no longer just a desire; it is now a primal need,” she says of the pent-up demand and that comes from a place of passion for travel and the craving to escape the four walls of our home.
Luxury cruising with The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection
The Ritz-Carlton’s extension into yachts and luxury cruising holidays has created an asset that is intimate and ultra-luxe. The boat is small enough to go into places where big cruise liners cannot, thus offering a never-before cruising experience.
Marriott in India and the Middle East
In the Middle East, ‘soft brands’ such as Autograph Collection, The Luxury Collection and Tribute Portfolio Hotels are doing extremely well, though economic brands such as Fairfield and Moxy Hotels are gaining ground.
In India, hotels such as Fairfield and Aloft are doing extremely well, particularly in Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets, while in the primary markets, premium and luxury brands are driving demand.
Lessons learnt from the revival of the domestic travel market in China
In the country where the novel coronavirus first reared its ugly head, and which has brought the rogue virus pretty much under control, domestic travel has been thriving. Occupancy rates of most Marriott hotels in China stand at 60%, which Edmundson says, “gives us all hope”.
New acquisitions to grow the brand
Marriott International’s acquisition of W Union square and Sheraton Phoenix Downtown has been much talked about and the group will continue on the acquisition route. “These hotels are reimagined as per the brand playbook and we ensure the product we are creating and the experiences (we are offering) are satisfying guest needs as well as are up-to-the-speed with current trends,” says Edmundson.
The world of Marriott BonVoy
Marriot BonVoy, Edmundson says, is more than a loyalty programme. With 141 million members, Marriott BonVoy is a brand in itself and Marriott International has seen an 11% revenue increase in 2019 from the world’s largest loyalty programme.
In rewind mode
Edmundson grew up in India and moved to New York when Starwood merged with Marriott International, to work in the corporate office. She graduated with masters in hotel management from the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management in Houston. Among her many assignments was one as the general manager in Westin Philadelphia, where she learnt the ropes of running a good hotel. “When the hotel was sold, I had an interesting opportunity to work for the W brand. That is where I made a pivot towards branding and marketing.”
Edmundson travels to India at least three to four times a year to meet with friends and family and has a keen sense of what works for the Indian market, given our cultural and professional pre-occupations.