Marriott's Julius Robinson on what travelers want now

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Marketing during a global pandemic is no easy feat, but Marriott International has continued to actively engage with its consumer base over the past year. It put out robust messaging on the company's Commitment to Clean health and safety protocols and bolstered its relationship with Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program members by extending Elite status memberships earned in 2019 through Feb. 1, 2022. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently caught up with Julius Robinson, Marriott International's chief sales and marketing officer for the U.S. and Canada, to talk about what kinds of marketing initiatives are striking a chord with travelers today and the types of trips and destinations most likely to be in demand this summer.

Julius Robinson
Julius Robinson

Q: During such an uncertain time, what has Marriott International found to be most effective when it comes to encouraging guests to book travel or plan for trips?

A: The two things that stick are providing guests with the knowledge that our hotels are exceptionally clean; and the other thing, I would say, is flexibility. We've done things like waive cancellation fees, and while that won't be forever, we continue to look at it on a regular basis. For any reservation made after July through the end of the first quarter this year, we're waiving all cancellation fees. Like I said, we're looking at that now, and if we deem that the situation warrants it, we'll extend that program. We're trying to make it easier for guests.

We've also launched initiatives that are very relevant for today's traveler and customer. For example, working at home has its challenges. Through our online platform, we now offer our Day Pass, Stay Pass and Play Pass packages, which are designed for those seeking, say, a just-for-Monday daytime stay to get some work done away from home. Or, if they're looking to stay with us for a couple of days or an extended period of time, just for a change in scenery, these packages were built to be customized for guests looking to do that. Part of the idea here is, if we can get you to a hotel for a day, just to work, and you can see the environment and the cleanliness standards that we have in place, you might just leave there thinking about booking a longer stay somewhere.

Q: What trends are you seeing on the search and booking front?

A: Travel trends are extremely short term, and we expect that to continue. People are making fairly rapid decisions about when they're going to travel and what they want to do.

We also get the sense from shop data that travelers are looking to reconnect with family and friends they don't live close to. We see secondary, tertiary markets come up much more frequently than we would typically, and that's a signal to us that people want to reach out to their friends and family in certain places. The other thing that we see in the data are dream, bucket list vacation destinations. People still want to come to New York, L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona. They're looking to get back to a time where they can start to catch up on some travel dreams that they've had in the past 12 months. And what I will also say is that the travel trends we're seeing are directly tied to vaccination distribution.

We certainly believe that as more members of the population become vaccinated, we'll start to see the fruits of that labor sometime after spring break and into the early summer booking season.

Q: Speaking of summer, what do you predict the summer travel season will look like this year?

A: Well, we think that national parks will be important this coming season. And this will be another year of road trips. But what's important to note is that as much as we talk about [the positive impact on] the destination hotel, customers who are going to be traveling by road are also going to be stopping at hotels along the way. So there's an engagement opportunity for the destination hotel, but there's also an opportunity for us to build confidence with the customer as they're doing the one-day stopover on their way to Florida, California or elsewhere.

And while I'm not predicting this today, one of the things that I think we will see at some point is a large influx of people looking to travel to key destinations around the country. So if people aren't planning now, or at least getting a sense of what they want to do, they may just find themselves, one day, not actually being able to find a flight or a hotel room. 

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