With a strong pipeline of developments, new technological enhancements, a robust Loyalty program and personalized customer experiences, Marriott International is geared up for the next phase of tourism growth in the Middle East region.
Sandeep Walia, Marriott International’s newly appointed Chief Operating Officer in the Middle East believes that the worst is behind and is optimistic of the growth graph going steadily up in the months to come.
Speaking to Arabiatravelnews.com about his plans for the region, Walia said that putting people first, will always be his priority. “Marriott is a brand and brands are nothing but the people that make it. Every associate working in each of our hotel, represents the Marriott brand and that becomes the corner stone of our business. Working with our associates and ensuring that this culture of ‘people first’, a core value for Marriott, will always be a priority.”
“People also means guests and the good news is that our guests are returning. Every time a country opens its borders, there is an influx of travelers. Today though, the guest demands differ, with more emphasis on cleanliness, safety and security and as a global hotel company, we want to communicate our preparedness even before they travel. The communication of cleanliness and safety measures that we have in place, to make their stay more comfortable and memorable.”
“People also refer to our owners, who have suffered along with us in this difficult times. And my focus will be to help them, by bringing back the business and thereby ensure cash flow. Our owners are a huge part of our business,” added Walia.
Marriott International’s optimism for the region is evident with the company’s plans for growth. “Today we boast of a healthy pipeline of 170 hotels in the Middle East, with plans for 100 new hotels in our development portfolio. That represents a 60 per cent growth, which we are very excited about.”
“By the end of 2021, we will open 20 new hotels in the region. This includes 10 properties in Dubai including the first Residence Inn in the UAE.”
Beyond the UAE, Marriott is also focused on growth in Qatar, where 9 new properties will be added to their existing portfolio of 11 properties, in the next year. The company’s portfolio in Turkey is expected to increase to 43 properties with over 7,000 rooms across eight markets by the end of 2022. Marriott will also bring their branded residences, the Residence by Marriott to Dubai, a first for the region. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are other countries that will see the group’s predominantly luxury brands including the St. Regis, JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, open doors.
“Travel and Tourism was one of the worst hit industries in the pandemic. While leisure travel took a real hit, hotels are now seeing some rebound. This rebound in business has been quick and definitely varies cross various markets. In the Middle East, we see a staggered recovery. While markets like UAE picked up first, we are now seeing improvement in other markets like Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and with Oman opening up, we expect to see some improvement in that market too.
“In terms of numbers, the Middle East & Africa region witnessed occupancy rise to 47 per cent in June, largely driven by the regions high vaccination rates, UAE staycations and quarantine business. In Q2 this year, occupancy stayed at 43.7 per cent, which is about 27.5 per cent over the same period in 2020. There has been some improvement in markets like Qatar too, which saw occupancy numbers touch 2019 levels too,” he added.
This return in leisure business has also driven growth for Marriott’s branded residences. “Our residences offer guests a convenient lifestyle and a vote of confidence when it comes to cleanliness and safety. As traveling styles have evolved, there is a market for longer stay options and the launch of the Residence Inn by Marriott is a testament to that” said Walia.
Marriott’s portfolio of luxury brands is also working towards creating exclusive, immersive experiences in the Middle East and Africa. “The pent up demand for holiday and one that offers a new sense of luxury is on the rise. Our luxury brands are committed to provide that ‘something more’ to our loyal guests.”
Walia is also confident of the return of Business travelers in the Middle East. “I strongly believe that there is no substitute in meeting and doing business. We expect that leisure travel will push recovery in business travel. We are also seeing an increase of ‘bleisure’ – as people continue to work remotely. These guests may choose a mix of leisure and business hotels so it is not possible to differentiate whether they are traveling for leisure or business or both.” he added.
“With events like the upcoming Dubai Expo or the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year, there is confidence in the region’s ability to host meetings and large events. This is largely because of the well-placed measures around safety and cleanliness.” he further added.
The F&B and restaurant industry is also seeing a growth in demand, with the segment representing a significant part of our business in the region. “Across the Marriott hotels, we introduced the “Commitment to Clean” safety protocols giving our guests and diners the confidence of a safe dine-in experience with their families.”
The Commitment to Clean program introduces new hygiene protocols including new cleaning techniques, new cleaning regimens and offers a choice on housekeeping frequencies, ensuring customer safety and eventually, the confidence to travel again.
There has also been a buzz of activity with the Marriott Bonvoy App, which allows members a contactless and contact-lite experience. “The App allows us to reach out to our members with new updates and initiatives and the engagement we’ve seen, has been very encouraging.”
Customers using the App have access to features like mobile check-in and checkout, mobile key, mobile dining, and mobile requests.
“The Marriott Bonvoy has over 150 million loyal members, who we are able to offer personalized stays and experiences – whether close to home or at a new destination,” said Walia.
“While the word personalization might be a tad over used today, it has become a critical component for travel in today’s scenario. Every guest is different and have different expectations while traveling. While some prefer to check in at the reception, others want a room check-in. This personalized hospitality that Marriott is known for, is what helps us build long-term, loyal relationships.” he added.
Walia also highlighted that developing these new technologies was always a key focus for the company. “Technology has been ground breaking. The Mobile key on the Marriott Bonvoy app is available at over 60 per cent of our properties across EMEA.
“Much of our conversations are happening through this technology since everyone is connected. So the minute our guest returns to any of our hotels, anywhere in the world, we are aware of their tastes and preferences and we are able to offer them a personalized stay like never before.”
Amidst all the technological advancements, Walia still believes that true hospitality is about the human touch. “When it comes to managing customers, you cannot take the human touch away in this industry. Technology will aid us to do that better but the human aspect will always remain. No augmented reality can take its place” he concluded.