Marriott, Starwood and Anbang: The Travel Agent Perspective
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It’s the most-watched game of travel industry ping pong in a very long time. Hilton encourages travelers to use direct booking, Marriott International follows suit. Marriott International then announces the possibility of acquiring Starwood Hotels and Resorts. The ball is in the court of the now higher bidder, China’s Anbang Insurance Group, who upped their bid on Monday afternoon to $14 billion.
Watching from the stands are travel agents, who wonder how this is all going to play out and, from the looks of it, most agents are extremely concerned.
“My take on this is that it devalues both products by homogenization – making the joined company into something bigger but not necessarily better,” says Adamarie King, Connoisseur’s Travel, an affiliate of Travel Experts. “My gut instinct will likely be to sell away from both. There is plenty of other product out there. “
Eric Grayson of Discover7 Travel admits that Marriott has gone above and beyond most often, but says that consolidation never tends to work in our favor. “In general, when hotel chains compete for our client's business, it means they're more likely to go out of their way for both our client and us,” he says.
Not liking the potential takeover at all are Judy Nidetz and Elaine Carey, both affiliates of Travel Experts. “Less competition in our industry breeds higher prices and fewer options available to the consumer,” says Nidetz. “This merger will be terrible for the traveler and also the travel agent.
She finds Starwood to be very travel agent friendly, offering great training and familiarization rates. “Marriott support has been virtually non-existent,” she explains. “I am very concerned that with this merger will come the loss of variety and competition for rates available to the consumer and less support offered to me as an agent.”
Carey says that while they are two different products on each level, they each have different properties and different advisor programs. “Combining the two might cause a decrease in service because the company as a whole would be so large,” she says. “(Marriott) is trying to push the agent out and if they merge, no telling what Marriott will do with all that power.”
Carey says that as far as the programs/incentives for agents, she likes Starwood’s agent program better. “We not only earn points for our own stays, but those of our clients as well,” she says. “They also have a better training program so we can better understand which properties fit which clients better. The amenities for the clients are fairly equal especially if they are also Virtuoso properties.”
Margie Lieb, founder and owner of PW Travel Consulting, has said that Starwood has been very supportive of the travel professional by allowing consumers who wish to use a travel professional to use one without losing benefits. “With this purchase, if Marriott continues down this road of pushing out travel professionals as a lucrative booking channel for them, other suppliers will get the travel professional business,” she says. “It is very sad because Starwood was a great partner and have great products but if they take up Marriott’s banner they will lose a lot of bookings.”
It will be interesting to see who takes this match.
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