Last updated: 10:19 AM ET, Tue November 29 2016

Marriott Exec Unveils Changes Coming Following Starwood Merger

Hotel & Resort | Starwood Hotels and Resorts | Gabe Zaldivar | November 29, 2016

Marriott Exec Unveils Changes Coming Following Starwood Merger

PHOTO: A view of the beautiful Brussels Marriott Hotel Grand Place. (Photo courtesy Marriott)

It may truly take years before we know with full clarity how things have transpired following the merger of Marriott and Starwood. However, thanks to a recent interview, we all now have a semblance of what to expect immediately from the converging companies and the brands under now one massive umbrella.

Bloomberg spoke exclusively to Marriott's global brand officer, Tina Edmundson, who explained in great detail where the brands under Marriott are situated and what the recent merger meant for consumers and those who have long enjoyed its respective loyalty programs.

As for those programs, don’t look for much in the way of change immediately. This seems to be an arduous undertaking in defining what programs will look like under the Marriott helm.

Edmundson relays to Bloomberg that there has been some difficulty carving out a specific loyalty program from two well ingrained brands.

Nikki Ekstein, in writing for Bloomberg, explains: “Just as tech infrastructure will require a lot of untangling, so will the terms of a new, joint loyalty program. Edmundson says this is ‘no trivial thing,’ and Marriott is not anywhere near revealing new terms just yet.”

Thankfully, consumers don’t necessarily have to jump through any hoops or evolve with the changing of the guard anytime soon.

According to the report, Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs will continue independent of one another until 2018, giving the brands and its consumers some time to get used to the idea of new terms and offerings.

It’s an echoed sentiment as the one offered by Marriott president and CEO Arne Sorenson back in September, via TravelPulse: “After we become one company, we expect to run parallel loyalty programs while we engage in the complicated work of integration. During this period, there is no change to how you manage your Marriott Rewards account or book reservations, and you will maintain your existing member benefits for some time. In fact, we don't anticipate launching a newly combined program until 2018.”

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While the merger has been massive both in scope and interest, things will apparently remain relatively status quo for the time being.

Bloomberg’s discussion with Edmundson revolved mainly around the luxury brands that fill the cavernous space between the two.

According to the Marriott official, don’t look for much in the way of dramatic change.

Edmundson explains: “I’d love to look back and for this Marriott International Luxury Group to be known as the undisputed leader in luxury, with the best global hotel portfolio, with coveted brands that really offer very personal, very individualized, very bespoke experiences. Where luxury at one point was prescribed, today we know that luxury is what you want it to be. Our luxury brands all cater to this idea in very different ways.”

Versatility and an eclectic portfolio are some things that other brands would love to encompass and offer to their respective consumers. Marriott now boasts 30 brands that, while presenting some overlap, offer distinct experiences and, most importantly, provide specific intrigue to consumers.

The most interesting note is that Marriott, for the moment, will let these 30 brands continue as they are without folding any into a larger brand, and one of the more intriguing case studies in this regard seems to be the marketing of the Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis.

While most would consider these brands to fill the same space, Edmundson explains each has its own stark contrast, which illustrates how keeping these brands isolated as the wise decision.

Edmundson explains: “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.”

Variety is more than the spice of life; it’s what draws millions who crave specialization and a unique experience. Marriott isn’t eager to rid its portfolio of that luxury in its holdings.

Those who adore innovation will also be happy to hear that while things will remain relatively calm among the various brands – although Design Hotels is said to be on its way to being merged with Marriott Rewards at some point in the future – the luxury in each of these products will me marked by an infusion of innovation.

Edmundson states: “I think we need to continuously innovate at the high end. This consumer is very discerning. We need to offer what today and tomorrow’s luxury guest is looking for. Innovation in the luxury space is absolutely a priority.”

The luxury consumer will be the first to get a taste of sweet tech and the comfort that comes from its entertaining products.

However, Edmundson explains that, like loyalty programs, there will be a learning curve: “We know our guests want easy connectivity and the ability to watch their own content on the TV, or the rollout of Netflix and keyless entry. But it’s a bit early to say when and how [we will make this happen]. The technology systems for both companies were quite different.”

The interview highlights a merger that is on its way to transforming into a Marriott that will grow and evolve thanks to its influx of brand holdings.

Rather than hold onto vestigial parts that consumers loath, Marriott seems eager to embrace all that was working with Starwood. At a quick glance you might not notice much has changed, and that may just prove to be part of the brilliance of the ongoing endeavor.

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