In conversation with Sandeep Walia, VP Luxury Brands Western Europe, Marriott Intl (Exclusive Interview)

In an exclusive interview, Sandeep Walia, Area Vice President Luxury Brands Western Europe at Mariott International, shares his insights on the latest development of the global luxury hospitality market including a unique take on Marriott International’s luxury brands.

How has luxury hospitality evolved in the past years? What are the most important disruptors?

In an increasingly globalized and connected world, we know that the modern luxury traveler is returning to scarcity and authenticity as true indicators of luxury, but that a key differentiator in luxury travel moving forward will be customization and service. This coincides with a collective, increased dependency on technology. Our guests want options such as mobile check-in and mobile key, they want to be able to browse in room dining options from the convenience of their personal device, and they want room ready alerts and the ability to communicate with their hotel without having to pick up the phone and call.

The line between online and offline is disappearing, meaning the future of luxury will be augmented. With this anticipated rise in AI-powered guest centricity, the end-to-end customer journey will become the new loyalty program. We will also see a greater demand for services on demand, given that technology is increasing our connectivity and furthering the notion that anything is available, anytime and anywhere. So, it is more important than ever for us to lead in the digital space and further the spirit of innovation in general.

Is there a common DNA for the luxury brands of Marriott International?

Spanning all corners of the world, the Marriott International Luxury Brands group offers more than 375 hotels and resorts in 60 countries through The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, EDITION, The Luxury Collection, JW Marriott and W Hotels. While we celebrate the distinct nature and individuality of every brand and location, all eight are united in the constant pursuit to provide an unmatched variety of transformative luxury experiences to our guests around the world.

How has the relationship with owners changed in the past years?

Our global travellers love the variety that our eight luxury brand’s provide, and we find our guests choosing which hotel they stay at based upon a number of factors such as travel companion, purpose of trip and more. Today, we see much stronger engagement with our ownership partners, and the greater interaction leads to improved results towards common goals.

Several luxury chains are still refraining from introducing loyalty programs. Tell us more about your perspective especially with the addition of the luxury brands of Starwood Hotels to your portfolio?

Our consumers continue to benefit from Marriott International’s historic acquisition of Starwood, which brought together two incredible companies with complementary strengths, allowing us to offer more luxury in more destinations. Our luxury portfolio is a big loyalty driver – between Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG, our members occupy a high percentage of Marriot International’s luxury hotels on any given night.

How would you describe the key differences between Ritz-Carlton and St Regis?

The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis brands are similar in that both have a rich and authentic heritage, but also hold modern relevance for today’s luxury traveller. And individually they set the standard in hospitality and beyond. However, we found that while both brands appealed to similar consumers, it was for different reasons. The Ritz-Carlton truly facilitates the destination experience in extraordinary ways, creating indelible moments for its guests, where we help them discover the best of the locale. With The Ritz-Carlton, we will champion its legendary service, delivered by its Ladies and Gentlemen. It is what the brand is known for and those sentiments echo globally.

Meanwhile, St. Regis is the destination, and the hotels offer guests signature rituals such as the Bloody Mary which was founded at the original St. Regis hotel in New York and Jazz Legends, which plays homage to the brand’s rich jazz legacy. Since the brands themselves are quite distinct in both their heritage and legacy, as well as the experience offered today, we plan to continue to differentiate their offerings by delivering on the needs of the two unique mindsets of our guests.

Luxury is also about innovation and creativity. Tell us more about your approach and what should we expect from the luxury brands of Marriott International?

Our luxury properties are defined by bespoke services and superb amenities, and we believe that technology can be used to better deliver both – high tech and high touch. For example, guests now may engage with the new Marriott Mobile app before, during, and after their stay using our Mobile Request chat feature. And the recently updated Ritz-Carlton mobile app offers more personalized content, messaging, and functionality. We are also offering more information and content related to a destination. A guest can go online to W Hotels’ content platform The Angle, or The Ritz-Carlton’s content hub, Journey, to get insider information, travel tricks and tips, and more experience enhancing content.

Are there any particular regions you are focusing when it comes to expansion?

Marriott International has a significant advantage over the competition to see the economies of the world shift, recognize that the ‘next generation luxury’ traveller is emerging, and understand that there is a demand for different types of luxury in many new locations – all of which have been key drivers to the rapid growth of our luxury brands. We continue to push boundaries, create new guest experiences, and work to identify and fill voids in the luxury travel landscape. For our brands, it is key that we get the right location, in the right destination, with the right partners. In 2018 alone, we are scheduled to open nearly 40 luxury hotels globally.

How do you see the evolution of dining and wellbeing? (Michelin starred Chef franchises / organic beauty brands)

Our guests are seeking out experiences that help them express who they are, so their approach to luxury continues to be less formal, entirely more personal, and defined more by their interests – often times dining and wellbeing. The modern luxury traveller no longer sees wellness as just relating to their physical self. Instead, wellness is being redefined as wellbeing, and is encompassing mental and emotional health in addition to physical.

 

Sandeep Walia VP Luxury Brands Western Europe at Marriott Intl