During last week’s Destination Pacific Islands event at Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park we had the chance to catch up with area vice president of Australia, New Zealand and Pacific for Marriott International Sean Hunt.
Over bottles of Fiji Water, we found out why the hotel giant is better than the others, which Marriott brand excites him the most and why he’s not worried about Airbnb.
Q. Are there any plans for expansion in the Asia Pacific region, and, if so, where and when?
A. Yeah, we’ve got a lot going on. Today we opened The Autograph Collection in Canberra – 200 rooms, fantastic property. In Melbourne we’re opening W Melbourne, which is exciting and will happen in the middle of next year. The Tasman, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Hobart will happen Q3. Then, towards the backend of the year we’re opening up Marriott Docklands in Melbourne, and the Ritz-Carlton Perth will open in November this year.
At the moment we have about 33 hotels operating and we’ve got about another 27 or so in the pipeline. We’ve got a lot of hotels to open.
Probably our fastest growing brand is Westin. We’ve got Westins opening in Coolum, Adelaide, Darwin and Sydney. Obviously we’ve got a Westin in Melbourne and Perth, so that’s our most exciting brand.
Q. What does Marriott offer that other hotel groups do not?
A. Great people. A hotel in every city around the world. More than 7000 hotels in about 130 countries. We’ve got 30 brands, and the largest loyalty program in the world, with 134 million members. Whether you’re staying at a Courtyard or Moxy or Four Points by Sheraton, or you’re celebrating a special event at one of our luxury properties, if you’re a Marriott Bonvoy member there’s that connectivity of the program across all 30 brands.
We’re the largest hotel operator in the South Pacific. So, from Tahiti through to Samoa, New Caledonia and Fiji, we’ve got 10 hotels and some more to open. We’ve signed a new deal in Tahiti and we’ve got a Four Points by Sheraton opening in a place called Lautoka in Fiji.
Q. How important is the meetings and events sector to Marriott?
A. Incredibly important, especially in big hotels like the one you’re sitting in today. Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park does about 50,000 MICE room nights a year. Around 30 per cent of business in these big hotels comes from MICE, with a huge flow on effect to our bars and restaurants.
Q. Has all the talk of Airbnb taking considerable hotel business subsided now?
A. We’ve never really been concerned about Airbnb. We do have the approach that more is better, and the more competitors and variation in product offerings the better it is for us. Marriott now talks about not only being the largest hotel company in the world but the largest travel company, offering everything from Ritz-Carlton cruises through to Marriott Homes & Villas.
We actually compete not in the Airbnb space but with a similar category of product. We take peoples’ homes and provide a much more curated experience than what you’d get at an Airbnb. So, Airbnb is what it is. We’re fine with it and we don’t really compete.
Airbnb also don’t have a loyalty program so visitors can’t earn points, nor do they have a compelling offering for the corporate segment. It’s definitely more leisure based.
Q. Not all travellers want or can afford five-star. What do you offer in this space?
A. I think five-star is probably the most misused term in the hospitality sector. First and foremost, everyone on OTAs rates themselves as five-star when many of them are not. We offer a diverse range of product. For example, in the villa category, we’ve got Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast, Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, Sheraton Fiji, where people can stay and do their own cooking.
In terms of the traditional hotel offering, we’ve got a lot of brands in the select service space. Starting with Moxy, we’ve just signed a new Moxy hotel in Perth and South Yarra, they’re our first two and we’ll be announcing several more before the end of the year. Moxy is a cool edgy brand where you check in at the bar. The room sizes are smaller and as a result the pricing is much lower.
We’ve got other brands in Australia like Courtyard by Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton and they’re priced accordingly to compete in that mid-scale space.