Agent Insights: The $12.2 Billion Marriott-Starwood Question
No one has the inside track on what effect the merger of two companies will have on interested parties. That goes, of course, for the recent mega-merger of hotel giants Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
And in this case, travel agents are, indeed, very interested parties.
The $12.2 billion deal announced early Monday creates the world’s largest hotel company. Here are the stats: the new company will operate or franchise more than 5,500 hotels representing some 30 brands and more than 1.1 million hotel rooms in 100 countries.
For the big picture, agents — like everyone else — are wondering whether the merger will stifle competition in the hotel industry and, perhaps, signal the coming of further consolidation of the remaining major hotel chains.
But closer to (their) “home,” agents are surely thinking about what the combined company will look like in terms of its policies for — and relationship with — agents.
Marriott has angered the travel agent community recently. Under a new policy announced late last year, Marriott Rewards (frequent guest program) members receive free Wi-Fi if they book directly via Marriott.com, through the Marriott mobile app, by phone at 1-800-MARRIOTT or through a Marriott hotel.
The policy applies to the company’s full-service brands, including Marriott, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Ritz-Carlton, Gaylord Hotels and the Autograph Collection.
Then this past summer, the company came under fire for a three-video YouTube ad campaign encouraging customers to book directly. Following strenuous protests from ASTA, Marriott withdrew one of the ads. Starwood, on the other hand, is perceived to be more agent-friendly.
Agents are bound to be disturbed by any actions that promote direct bookings. Many see them as another supplier assault on the agent distribution channel. Others, though, view these sorts of policies as understandable business decisions. Hotel bookings too, are hardly critical to agents whose businesses focus on cruises, vacation packages and FIT travel.
Regardless of how agents feel though, they’re sure to be watching whether a combined Marriott-Starwood will tip the scales in favor of a strong relationship with agents.
That’s the $12.2 billion question.
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