Catalyst

The mindful way to woo the luxury consumer

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on December 12, 2019 Published on December 12, 2019

There is a shift in the way Marriott is looking at delivering luxurious experiences to its guests

For some time now luxury brands have been tom-tomming experience over everything else when it comes to serving their consumers. But in 2020, expect this to go one notch up. From mere experiences it will become about ‘transformational experiences’, as Bruce Ryde, Vice-President of Luxury Brands & Brand Marketing Asia Pacific for Marriott Hotels, says. It has been a period of much action at Marriott, which has just completed a complex merger with Starwood and as a result now has 31 hotel brands in its portfolio, including eight luxury brands. Five of these — The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, The Luxury Collection, St. Regis and W Hotels — are in India. The missing ones are Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Bulgari Hotels and Resorts, and Edition.

Meanwhile, world over, there is an economic downturn. Parallelly, consumer tastes are changing. How are Marriott’s luxury brands dealing with all this?

The loyalty card

Ryde says when things start to tighten up, as a company, Marriott tends to gain market share. “This is partly because of our distribution business,” he explains. Marriott Bonvoy, the rejigged loyalty programme of the chain, which now has SPG Rewards as well as Ritz Carlton Rewards merged into it, is a powerful way to keep guests engaged with the brand. It’s an experiential programme, he says, that could include concerts and sports events, and draws in families of members too.

Food to the fore

Weddings and food and beverage are two segments in luxury that do strongly even during recessionary times, says Ryde. And Marriott could soon be bringing in its Ritz Carlton Stellar Dining experiences to India. “There are more Michelin star chefs in Ritz Carlton than in any other of our brands. In the Stellar Dining programme, we bring them together and create an incredible series of experiences ranging from cooking classes, mixology lessons, visiting local markets and so on.” Finally, it all culminates in an amazing dinner. “Our ambition is to bring this to India next year,” says Ryde. With at least three more Ritz Carltons slated to open in India, including one in Delhi, it makes sense.

Transformational

Aren’t hotels overdoing the experiences? Ryde says that from mere experiences hotel brands are now thinking in terms of transformational experiences. We see that consumers want experiences that will help improve themselves or the world. So, sustainability, responsible luxury, environment friendliness are important things for brands. In addition, Marriott’s brands are finding newer ground. For instance, JW Marriott is now positioning itself as a mindfulness destination. Every JW property will have a garden where it will potentially grow all its vegetables and guests of the hotels can interact with it. A new flower philosophy is taking shape, wherein the hotel will stop using cut flowers inside but place real plants. W, meanwhile, is taking the route of Women’s Empowerment.

Exclusive to inclusive

Luxury is no longer about being exclusive, it’s now also about being inclusive, says Ryde. It’s about caring for local communities, for disenfranchised. It’s also about grouping of like-minded people, bringing together people with shared values. “The way the luxury market is moving is that it is segmenting so much. There are different sets of people looking for distinctly different experiences. Luxury brands are evolving to meet all those experiences. “When we merged with Starwood and had 31 brands, most people said, ‘how can you have so many brands’. But we have actually added more brands after the merger to meet these new segments,” says Ryde.

And for those looking for everything, a new offering is Marriott All Inclusive which, right now, is opening in the Caribbean market.

Asian consumer

While the consumption of luxury is global, growth is increasingly coming from Asia. Ryde points how there is a reflection of this in Marriott’s own luxury brands portfolio.

“Globally we have 400 luxury hotels currently and 138 are in Asia Pacific. However, in our development pipeline of 200 luxury hotels, 100 are in Asia Pacific.” Everything is sense checked with Asia Pacific market, proof of concepts often originate from the region.

For instance, a lot of the research and insights on JW Marriott’s work around mindfulness originated from the Asia Pacific region.

Published on December 12, 2019
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