Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Sat October 08 2016

So What Does Marriott and Starwood’s Merger Mean To You?

Hotel & Resort | Starwood Hotels and Resorts | Scott Laird | October 08, 2016

So What Does Marriott and Starwood’s Merger Mean To You?

PHOTO: The W Maldives exudes luxury, but where does it fall on the new brand matrix? (Photo courtesy of Marriott International)

Now that Marriott and Starwood have closed on their merger, their new brand page is one of the best I’ve ever seen from a hotel company. When you’re the world’s largest hotel company, and you have 30+ brands that participate in your loyalty programs (legacy Marriott brand Bulgari Hotels & Resorts does not participate in either program) you have to take some time to explain the difference in your brands in consumer-friendly language.

Brand language, in many cases, is really designed for prospective hotel owners looking to license a brand from a management company like Marriott. The brand indicates to the owners how many rooms (“keys” in industry parlance) and employees they can expect to maintain, budget and outlay for each, plus a bevy of other minute standards that aren’t public.

Marriott has gone a different direction with their new brand matrix. They still use monikers like “Luxury”, and “Upper Midscale” for their brands when speaking with developers, but when it comes to customer-facing brands, they’ve created a more two-dimensional scale. On one end of the scale is a quality ranking of three types: Luxury, Premium, and Select. Pretty easy to remember, and they each draw a somewhat clearer picture; JW Marriott is “Luxury,” while Westin is “Premium.”

READ MORE: What's Ahead for Starwood Preferred Guest Members?

However, Marriott has also added another dimension on a different axis. In addition to the quality ranking, they’ve also introduced what I’ll call a “vibe” dichotomy. It provides further clarification on the differences between brands within the three rankings, segmenting them into “Classic” and “Distinctive” brands.

So if you’re comparing two luxury hotels and you want to know the difference between the brands, you now have an answer. The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis will offer a more classic experience, with legacy architecture, formal service, and traditional amenities. W Hotels, which also occupies the luxury space, will have more avant-garde architecture, engaging but less formal service, and more modern amenities. That dichotomy continues down the layers of the chart, providing some clarification to hotels in the premium space, further segmenting classic (Marriott, Sheraton) brands from distinctive (Westin, Renaissance) ones. Even the Select category has their adherents on both sides of the coin, with Courtyard and Four Points taking up residence in the classic space, and Aloft and AC Hotels holding court on the distinctive side.

For anybody who’s ever written a social media review on a hotel finding it perhaps a Sheraton too “dated” or “stuffy” might use the matrix to find that they might have felt more at home in a Westin or Le Meridien in the same category of hotel, while those expecting a classic, formal brand of luxury service would have good forewarning that perhaps the W or Edition brands wouldn’t be providing exactly what they might be looking for.

Kudos goes to Marriott in this case for making their branding easy to understand from a consumer perspective. And for brand loyalists who wrung their hands over whether their favorite brand would be kept following the merger, there’s more good news: all 30 brands will remain intact for the foreseeable future. 

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