Agency Groups Slam Marriott's Direct-Booking Campaign
The travel agency community minced no words in its reaction to Marriott’s very public YouTube campaign urging travelers to book direct, with ASTA calling upon the company to withdraw the campaign immediately, contending it is deceptive and denigrating to travel consultants.
“Suppliers have the right to market their product however they choose, as long as the advertisements are legal and truthful,” said Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA.
“Marriott’s new marketing campaign, which tells consumers that they can only find the best rates on Marriott.com, is not only disparaging to travel agents, but also misleading to the traveling public.”
Kerby stressed the role of agents in helping consumers discern which brands are tailored to meet their very specific set of needs.
“In doing so, agents do not disparage an entire brand. They use their information sources, expertise and judgment to help consumers make the choice that is best for them in a marketplace teeming with options,” he said. “This advice often involves price, but is also based on other factors that the consumer values. Therefore, it is incomprehensible that Marriott would position itself as just another price-driven brand while intentionally disparaging the same professional travel agents that Marriott selects to help market its services.”
Kerby also detailed why ASTA believes the campaign is misleading.
“This Marriott marketing campaign sends the message to consumers that the ‘best’ rates can only be found by booking direct,” Kerby said. “This statement is simply not true. Professional travel agents, using numerous tools at their disposal, have access to Marriott inventory at the same prices that appear on Marriott’s website.”
Other agency groups also reacted vociferously to the campaign.
“Marriott’s campaign, It Pays to Book Direct, is clearly advising consumers that if they book via Marriott.com, they’ll not only receive the company’s best rate guarantee, but also ‘extra benefits’ and ‘special deals’ along with the initial broadside that brings us back to square one in our issue with them: free Wi-Fi,” said Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for Travel Leaders Group. “On the surface, it appears they do not wish to work with the travel agency distribution system at all.”
Loucks noted that at Travel Leaders Group, the needs of clients always come first.
“As with all suppliers, we recognize that our primary mission is to serve our clients’ needs, and we will always do what is in their best interest first and foremost,” he said. “But we believe it’s important to work with suppliers who support and value what we do.”
For its part, Signature Travel Network contended that the Marriott campaign is not only misleading but also self-serving.
“The best option for consumers is to book with a professional travel consultant, not booking directly with Moxy or Marriott,” said Ignacio Maza, Signature’s executive vice president. “First, the travel consultant can offer unbiased advice that no hotel company is ever going to provide. Perhaps Moxy or Marriott is not the right choice for a particular consumer, so you need an advocate that is going to provide the best recommendation based on the traveler’s needs – not the hotel chain.”
Maza also pointed out that agents are more often than not able to provide consumers with a robust array of hotel options and value-added amenities that they would be hard pressed to find on their own.
“Professional travel consultants that belong to networks like Signature have access to thousands of hotels with additional privileges all over the world, including multiple brands, independent hotels and properties that the consumer may not even be aware of,” he said.
In the end, Maza contended that the Marriott campaign may have more far-reaching implications.
“The campaign is unfortunately part of a larger effort within the industry stressing the need to book directly with a particular supplier, instead of consulting a travel professional,” he said. “We think everyone is best served by having options, and letting consumers find the solution that is right for them. We believe travel professionals are in the best position to inform consumers of the range of options, and then recommend the solution that is right for them or for that particular request.”
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