The possibility of Marriott International acquiring
Starwood Hotels and Resorts elicits mixed reactions from travel agents. While
some feel the merger would little affect them, others are concerned about a
company that is perceived as less agent-friendly taking over one that has a
more agent-friendly reputation.
Marriott on Monday
reached an agreement to acquire Starwood, increasing its initial bid made in
November to $13.6 billion. That is about 2% more than Anbang Insurance Group’s
competing bid made last week. Stockholders will vote on the move on April 8,
and Marriott said the deal could close in mid-2016.
bid could be made, but after the latest Marriott agreement, agents talked about
that potential outcome this week. It would create the largest hotel company in
the world, with 30 brands and around 5,700 hotels with 1.1 million rooms.
“Both Marriott and Starwood are great hotel operators.
They run great hotel programs,” said Mike Cameron, president of Andavo Travel.
“They both cover the whole spectrum of hotel properties, from high-end luxury
to economy brands and everything in the middle, and our clients love staying at
Marriott and Starwood properties. As to whether or not they’re going to be
better by being bigger, I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case, but
they’re both great hotel brands and great hotel operators.”
The idea of a strategic acquisition instead of a
financial acquisition, as some have said an Anbang acquisition would be, is
“I’m always happy
when a hospitality company is owned by a hospitality company, as opposed to a
hospitality company being owned by just random investors,” said Eric Hrubant,
president of New York-based Cire Travel, a division of Tzell.
But there remain
the perceptions that Marriott has been less agent-friendly, and Starwood more
so, at least on the corporate level, Cameron said. Specifically, he pointed to
Marriott’s book-direct efforts.
“They seem to want
to bypass the agency distribution system and develop more of a direct
relationship with clients,” he said. “Starwood, on the other hand, has been a
bit more agent-friendly.”
Jason Olson, owner of True Vacation Travel in Redding, Calif., said he has heard rumors that Starwood would operate basically autonomously.
Cameron said this
merger could be perceived as part of the ongoing consolidation in the industry,
evidenced by recent airline mergers leaving the big three, and similar mergers
in the rental car space.
it’s going to be a bit more difficult for them to consolidate because there are
so many private brands and independent properties that really do need to be in
the distribution system, in the GDSs,” he said. “They rely upon travel agents
to fill their rooms, and my hope is they will stay agent-friendly because of
Jason Olson, owner
of True Vacation Travel in Redding, Calif., said Marriott is not his agency’s
go-to hotel supplier, but they do book clients there if it’s the best fit. He
did acknowledge Marriott’s reputation as less agent-friendly than Starwood.
He said there “is a concern on how, exactly, the merger’s
going to impact our relationship with the Starwood brand,” a relationship that
has been a good one for him, Olsen said.
Olson said he has heard rumors that Starwood would
operate basically autonomously, which would allay that concern, but they are
spokesman said this week it is “too early for definitive details about how the
company will operate,” but CEO Arne Sorenson will remain in his post, Marriott
International will keep its name and the company will remain headquartered in
A “silver lining” of the merger would be an increase in properties
where he could book clients using their Marriott Rewards loyalty points, Olson
said it will initially run the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest
programs parallel to each other, down the road it will create one single
“After the merger, it’s going to make them really hard to
ignore, because post-merger, they’ll be the biggest hotel chain, period,” Olson
He also pointed out that if a merger occurs, it would
reduce competition in the marketplace.
“All of a sudden, the list of hotel chains that are
agent-friendly gets really, really short,” he said, something he called
Ron Archer, of Archer Travel Group in Montrose, Calif.,
was unconcerned, and said the acquisition would mean very little to his
“Are they going to
not pay travel agent commissions? No, they’ll continue to pay, because there’s
so many different distribution channels, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.
At the end of the day, Archer said as long as his agents are
still making the same commission, that’s what matters.
Valerie Ann Wilson, chairman and CEO of Valerie Wilson
Travel in New York, urged the companies to consult with travel agents about the
merger and the companies’ brands.
“I really, really hope that they do talk to the agency
community, whether it’s focus groups of panel discussions or something, to get
real opinions from agency leaders, particularly when they’re talking about
luxury brands,” she said.
Wilson sits on several similar advisory boards — for
instance, one for Ritz-Carlton and
another for Starwood’s luxury brands — and would welcome the chance at
contributing on a larger level if the Marriott-Starwood merger happens.
“I’m not afraid to be vocal about what’s good, bad or
indifferent,” she said, noting hoteliers would benefit from agents’ ideas in a
merger that “could really be a game-changer in the hotel industry.”