Fresh Details on Marriott’s Travel Booking Tool for Small Businesses

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Skift Take

We spoke with Marriott’s chief revenue and tech officer to learn more about the hotel giant’s new online booking portal aimed at small- and medium-sized enterprises. Does it truly offer a seamless, one-stop solution for road warriors?

Marriott International has debuted a new booking platform to help small and mid-sized companies book business travel.

Skift reported the news on Tuesday but we wanted to learn more about how the tool, powered by startup Spotnana, works for road warriors.

“We think we’ve put together something really compelling here for travelers at small and medium-sized businesses who had been dissatisfied with what was out there,” said Drew Pinto, executive vice president and chief revenue and technology officer at Marriott. “We think it’s going to drive more demand to our hotels and unlock our ability to have personalized interactions with these business travelers.”

Marriott is targeting smaller companies that “self-manage” their travel because they’re too small to have the help of corporate travel managers. Employees either book travel themselves or use a personal assistant to book trips.

Marriott is betting it can lure road warriors with loyalty perks and a streamlined booking experience. Its program offers discounted rates and other benefits. Here are some key details.

Why now?

Marriott created this platform for two reasons:

  • A gap in the market: According to Marriott’s surveys, existing tools and offerings didn’t meet this segment’s unique needs. “They could find great discounts, but that’s about it,” Pinto said.
  • A segment of rising importance: Small and medium businesses recovered first after the pandemic and have become a larger part of Marriott’s guest mix than in 2019. These business travelers are now staying at properties in numbers above pandemic levels, while large corporations are still lagging 2019 volumes. “We’ve been very successful in this space, but we never really tailored anything to the unique needs of this segment,” Pinto said.

What’s new?

Small- to medium-sized businesses that join the platform will be eligible to select a discount at hotels “subject to availability,” all while earning points for future stays at participating hotels, room upgrades, and more.

Unlike any other major hotel group, Marriott now offers smaller businesses the ability to book rooms at its hotels at the same time as booking flights and rental cars in the same portal. It has built this service on top of an open platform created by startup Spotnana.

“We built a direct API integration to Marriott’s central reservation system, allowing the platform to create new offers directly to customers,” said Sarosh Waghmar, founder and chief product officer at Spotnana, to Skift. This process provides travelers with the fullest, most real-time inventory possible.

Loyalty play

Employees must sign up for Marriott’s loyalty program to participate.

  • The push to get people to use the loyalty program may help the hotel group encourage more repeat bookings. It will also help the company’s computers recognize travelers and target relevant ads to them after their stay — making their digital marketing more efficient.
  • The program provides elite status awards for companies that meet certain company-wide usage thresholds. Companies can give status awards to employees, such as an executive assistant who plans the travel for a company’s top leaders.

What’s next?

Marriott will see how the platform does with guests and prioritize new features in the travel management platform based on customer usage and requests. Here’s what else is on its product roadmap.

  • Making the connection to group bookings more seamless. “You’ll see in the product that there’s a link off to our quick group solution where you can book instantly for group stays in our hotels,” Pinto said. “Our goal would be to make that even more seamless.”
  • Potentially emphasizing certain hotel brands in the search process if they resonate best with small- and medium-sized businesses and downplaying brands that aim at leisure travelers or families.

Getting the word out

Marriott plans to market its new platform through both broad and direct marketing.

  • Internal marketing through local hotel sales teams
  • Targeted marketing tailored to SMB customers, different from typical consumer-focused campaigns. “Coming out of the pandemic, within the marketing team, we created a small group for B2B marketing to really listen to this type of customer,” Pinto said. “It spans from large corporate enterprise customers to these smaller customers.”
  • Presence at events like the Global Business Travel Association conference in Atlanta later this month to raise awareness

Driving direct bookings

Marriott wants to cut out the intermediaries and capture more bookings directly.

  • That means the hotel giant is implicitly muscling in on business travel middlemen that have, in recent years, built large customer lists among small-and-medium-size businesses, such as Navan, Travelperk, and for Business.
  • The move comes as companies scrutinize travel budgets and demand more efficient solutions. Marriott sees an opening to simplify the fragmented business travel process.
  • But displacing specialist digital-native providers won’t be easy.
  • “If a third party is the best solution for our customer, we’re happy to honor that solution and make it as easy as possible to use it,” Pinto said. “But there are many, many customers that feel there’s been nothing that meets their full needs. So we launched this because, in those situations, we prefer to have customers book directly with us.”
  • “When a guest books directly, we know who they are and their preferences and we can recognize them at check-in,” Pinto said. “They can manage their check-in through our app, which unlocks so much of what we’re able to do to provide, more personalized experiences during a stay.”

Whether companies bite and use the new portal remains to be seen. But Marriott’s play signals the battleground is shifting in the fight for valuable business travelers.

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