News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jerry W. Jackson, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 12, 2003 - Trying to beat the Internet at its own game of discount pricing, a major hotel operator said Tuesday it is launching a room-rate guarantee.
Marriott International said the new program will ensure that consumers who book at one of its hotels, including Marriott, Fairfield Inn and other brands, can get the best rate whether the consumer found it online, at the hotel, through a travel agent or other source.
Marriott executives said it's the most comprehensive best-rate guarantee on the market, going beyond the typical lowest Web-rate guarantees.
The Look No Further Best Rate Guarantee begins Jan. 1. Marriott representatives said the deal works like this: If a consumer books a Marriott room and within 24 hours finds a lower publicly available rate for the same room at the same hotel, the company will match the lower rate at the same dates. Plus, it will kick in another 25 percent off. The deal applies to all chains owned by the company except the Ritz-Carlton.
Travel industry specialists said that while Marriott's move may not slow the shift to Internet booking, it could at least give Marriott customers more confidence that they are not overpaying just because they don't buy through the Internet.
"The fact that it will apply to all market channels, that's more far reaching," than other hotel-rate guarantees, said Lori Raleigh, executive director of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants, in Naples.
Other industry experts said anything that simplifies the process for consumers is helpful because of the explosion of travel sales channels. "There is a lot of confusion out there right now," in hotel pricing, said Doris Green, Florida representative for the American Society of Travel Agents.
"It's good to put us [travel agents] on a level field with Web sites," Green said of the Marriott pricing plan.
It's unclear whether other chains might follow Marriott's lead, but industry specialists said there may be aspects of Marriott's business model that make it easier for the company to make such an offer. For example, Marriott has a heavily used Web site of its own and has not had to rely as extensively on third-party Internet sites as other hotel operators.
Marriott representatives said they think the concept will resonate with many consumers who, surveys show, search half a day to find the best room rates.
"With this [guarantee] you don't have to spend your time shopping around," said Marriott spokesman Matthew Carroll.
But the pricing plan does have limitations, and it will theoretically be possible for consumers to get a discount in a Marriott through one of the so-called "opaque sites" such as Priceline.com or Hotwire.com, where the identity of the hotel is not known up front, Carroll said.
The guarantee applies to other Internet sites, such as Hotels.com, Travelocity and Expedia, where the brand is known before the deal is booked. The guarantee also is not applicable for corporate travel.
While Marriott does not own the vast majority of the individual hotels that carry its brand, and those hotels set their own rates, the company will require them to set uniform rates across all channels, Carroll said. "We're confident we can do this," Carroll said.
Raleigh, with the society of hospitality consultants, said that she expects consumers will continue to look for bargain hotel-rates online by shopping by "destination" -- the more popular choice -- rather than brand. That may mean that they would choose a hotel, other than Marriott or one of its other brands, based on a lower price in a particular city. In such a case, the Marriott rate guarantee would not apply.
"I think the floodgate has been opened," to Internet rate comparisons, and online bookings, Raleigh said.
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