The future of the luxury brands of Starwood and Marriott: “We keep all brands”

In a recent interview, Tina Edmundson, Marriott’s Global Brand Officer provided her view on the future of the luxury brands of the merged group.

Marriott was already the biggest hotel company in the world with its 19 brands—including Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, and Edition—and now it has 30. Amazingly, all of them are staying, and Edmundson didn’t give any indication that that would change.

“We thought long and hard about how you serve up 30 brands in a meaningful way—one that helps consumers infer both price and experience,” said the Marriott exec, who also spent 18 years working with Starwood earlier in her career, most recently as Starwood’s senior vice president of brand operations, luxury, and lifestyle.

Eight of Marriott’s 30 brands are being designated luxury. You won’t be surprised about which ones: The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Bvlgari, St. Regis, Edition, the Luxury Collection, JW Marriott, and W. Edmundson says the collection was designed to cover all “luxury customers no matter their mood or travel persona.”

Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis once occupied opposite corners of the same boxing ring. Now they’re strange bedfellows. So how do two brands, very similar in style and taste, stop competing for the same customers and start to share? Edmundson and her team did a deep dive on this particular pair of portfolios to understand their subtler differences.

“When we think about any of our brands, we start with the consumer and look at what they value,” she said. “With Ritz-Carlton, this consumer is really leaning toward discovery. And for St. Regis, it’s really about status and connoisseurship.” Each company, she says, has a program already in place to cater to these mindsets—and those can be blown up to help articulate the differences more clearly.

“Luxury customers are looking for everything but lean more heavily on Ritz-Carlton for facilitation [to explore a new place] and on St. Regis when they want the hotel to be the destination.” Ritz, she says, is about connecting people to places, while St. Regis itself is the place where people want to see and be seen. “The St. Regis customer is looking for the hotel to serve up performances by jazz legends or signature rituals like midnight supper and St. Regis bloody marys.”

Will it work? Edmundson believes so. “Prior to the close, we talked to customers to see how these brands are being perceived. And a lot of people were talking about this unprompted. So you know it’s resonating.”

“I am one of the few people that has had the opportunity to have worked in both companies, so I see this very much as a perfect marriage,” said Edmundson, who has put in 26 years of experience at the two brands combined.

“Marriott is the leading international hotelier, operationally very excellent with so much experience and success both with existing brands and launching new brands. Then you think of Starwood, which is foundationally about innovation. Their strength is in public relations and brand marketing. You put these things together, and the marriage makes for a complete whole, if you will. Competitively it will be really beneficial for us,” she said of the powerhouse combination.

Among the benefits of the merger, she said, is the ability to data mine across a massive global portfolio and find out what guests are looking for. She says knowing more about travelers’ needs—whether they’re dictated by geography, mindset, or interest—will give the luxury brands “the ability to be at the cutting edge of the latest trends.”

That information will likely manifest itself at W and Edition properties first. These will be seen as the luxury brands most endemically suited for innovation, but Edmundson reiterated that “scale is absolutely a priority.” (Aloft will continue to be an innovation leader, though it’s considered one of Marriott’s “distinctive select” brands.)

Adapted from Bloomberg

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