Consider the Marriott mSpot, a two-story add-on to the Times Square facade of the Marriott Marquis that, for four days last month, let passersby get a look at the companys redesigned guest room. The event, it became clear, was designed to demonstrate that more was changing than a hotel rooms decor.

Celebrity appearances were scheduled. Pop stars performed from the mSpots roof. Marriott personnel were dressed in black.

Marriotts got a new vibe, the invitation to the unveiling of the mSpot promised. References were made to the companys reinvented brand image.

Im not sure the invitation needed to spell it out with the phrase reinvented brand image. I think I picked that up as soon as I saw that Marriott was building an event around a consonant followed by the word spot. The mSpot, coming from Marriott, seemed almost risque.

Marriott has long held my admiration for building a solid company on values that could be considered, by some, ho-hum: consistency of delivery, operational excellence and a corporate culture whose public face was so well scrubbed it was in danger of sanding down its freckles.

Such operational dependability is admired by the public, but at an almost subliminal level. Marriotts approach was in stark contrast to other hoteliers who, when they speak to the subconscious, go straight for the id. Starwood unashamedly mimicked Ian Schraegers boutique-style innovations and Marriotts operational standards to deliver reliable products that had a style that consumers could not stop talking about.

But then Marriott awoke. Literally, it would seem. Judging from the companys recent activities, one senses that Bill Marriott arose one morning to discover that not only was his mattress unheavenly, but his bedding dowdy, his reading lamp old-fashioned and his TV extraordinarily bulky.

One problem encountered when reinventing a brand image toward innovation and style is that you have to leapfrog over the current style leaders to make an impact. I toured the mSpot, and worried that the very consumers Marriott is trying to court might conclude that although the decor made an impressive 10-year leap overnight, the 10 years were from 1993 to 2003.

What I hope does not get lost in the mSpot hype is that Marriott has seriously raised the bar for large hotel brands in the area of in-room technology. Guests can plug-in their digital cameras and see photos that they took earlier that day enlarged onto a flat-screen TV. Or. they can plug in their laptop and the TV becomes their monitor. They can even split the image and watch TV as they work on their computer (this is technology that I must keep secret from my 13-year-old daughter).

One person who can appreciate the challenges Marriott has faced is Gerald Lawless, CEO of Jumeirah International, which owns the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab in Dubai. His luxury chain has just 10 properties (the most recent addition is the Essex House in New York), but he has plans to expand.

Lawless, who had previously worked for Forte Meridian Hotels, says he understands how difficult it is to roll out innovations in a large company. He sees the ability to innovate quickly as an advantage of scale -- small scale -- in an industry where the deck is usually stacked in favor of the large.

When you announce an innovation, youd better have it in a lot of your properties quickly. As a young group, we can achieve that, he said. (Marriotts timetable for getting flat-screen TVs into all its rooms -- four years -- is only a little shorter than Lawless schedule to open 40 new hotels.)

Like people, businesses have life cycles, and also like people, the small desire to be bigger, even when they realize that means theyll face bigger challenges. Not to beat the life cycle analogy to death, but I wonder if Marriotts mSpot isnt the hotel chains equivalent of a midlife crisis, an attempt to feel young again. Or -- OK, I will beat the analogy to death -- perhaps the mSpot is the first real sign that a new generation of Marriotts is coming into its own.


From Our Partners

2021 Family Expo
Family Travel Expo
Register Now
Air Astana 1366
Air Astana
Read More
2021 Caesars Webinar
Watch Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI