Marriott International is Betting Big on Customer-Facing Technology

Digital transformation has the power to overhaul many elements of a business, from administration to IT. However, where it is arguably most transformative is in its potential to deliver amazing customer experiences.

Thirty-five percent of executives say the top benefit of digital transformation is an improved ability to meet customer expectations. Customer experience is growing as a key brand differentiator. It's predicted that more than 40% of all data analytics projects will involve customer experience by 2020. Technology and customer experience are intrinsically linked, and customer-facing brands know it can be the key to standing out from the crowd.

One industry that is all about customer experience is travel and hospitality, where people pay significant amounts of money to escape the humdrum of their everyday lives. As one of the world's leading hotel brands, Marriott International is more than aware of this and is using digital technology to deliver amazing guest experiences.

Marriott International

Due to its lofty position in its industry, Marriott International has long been a pioneer of digital technology and is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. The world-famous hotel brand has recently opened a new innovation lab to continue this tradition.

After an employee accidentally locked themselves in the basement of Marriott's Maryland headquarters, they discovered a 10,000 square foot space that wasn't being used effectively. Now, that space is now known as The Underground, a sprawling doll-house-like maze of makeshift hotel rooms in which new technologies and experiences can be tested and developed. The Underground adopts a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks," philosophy, with no idea being too wild for consideration.

"We use the innovation lab to perfect the product offered at our brands," said Marriott International's Vice President for Global Design Strategies, Aliya Khan. "We use the lab to generate and test our ideas before going to market. This allows us to get the feedback we need prior to launching something in the field. From flooring studies to drone cocktails, to the build-out of public space, we can stretch our imagination in all directions and ensure what we deliver is relevant to our guests today and into the future."

The Underground isn't just focused on technology, either. The warren of rooms is also used to help Marriott decide how to make the most of the space with everything from decorating to the placement of furniture being tested. Housekeeping also comes into it, with the innovation space allowing the brand to deduce how easy it is to clean a room with a certain furniture configuration or whether there are any hard-to-reach areas.

Customer Experience

In terms of technology, we could happily fill an eBook with all the innovations Marriott has thrown into the arena.

Following the acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the company immediately enabled members of the three disparate loyalty programs — Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest — to link their accounts, allowing members of all three to have their status matched. This was a staggering feat from a purely technological and data integration perspective.

Mobile check-in, mobile requests, and mobile keys are all enabling Marriott guests to use their smartphones to make accessing hotel services more convenient and less stressful than ever before. After a lengthy journey, people usually want to get to their rooms, kick off their shoes, and grab a shower as quickly as possible. These next-generation smartphone tools enable them to do just that.

Marriot also has artificial intelligence chatbots available on Facebook Messenger and Slack, with WeChat and Google Assistant integration to follow soon. Marriott was also the first major hotel chain to sign up to Amazon's Alexa for Hospitality room assistant technology, paving the way for voice control functionality to be installed in every room.

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All this is building towards the creation of entirely smart rooms in which all devices will respond to voice commands and allow customers to customize many aspects of their guest experience. One particularly whimsical new technology installed at Marriott Hotels allows guests to seize on moments of inspiration in the shower. They can doodle their ideas on the steamed-up shower screen and then have the results sent to their devices.

Final Thoughts

"Digital transformation is not only speeding up, but it is broadening — it's in every aspect of our business," said Marriott International's President and CEO, Arne Sorenson. "We see it with our relationships with our team... who increasingly want to deal with us in training [and] managing their careers. We see it with our customers who want not only to stay in our hotels but [also] want to be able to communicate with us constantly through technological tools...and want to have the breadth of tools across the entire digital landscape available to them through us."

You can hear Marriott International's Senior Director of Digital Product Management, Todd Castor, speak at Digital Travel 2020, taking place in May at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, CA.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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