Marriott.com Adds Personalization Features

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Eyeing more repeat business from its fastest-growing channel, Marriott International Inc. has increased the speed of its online booking process and added personalization features.


Announced last week, the changes at Marriott.com arguably are one of the first stabs in the hospitality category to offer targeted content based on customers' stated interests to various segments.


By adding features such as express reservations at www.marriott.com and allowing customized content, Marriott is reaching out to not only its 13 million Marriott Rewards program members, but also to any traveler who simply visits the site and personalizes it.


"Once consumers register, we personalize our Web response after your first visit," said Bruce Wolff, senior vice president of distribution sales and marketing at Marriott, Washington. "This is an important part of our e-commerce strategy."


Marriott.com now allows consumers to register their profile information without the need to re-enter data on the next visit for online reservations. Visitors can volunteer information on their travel habits, cities they visit, preferred Marriott hotels and favorite activities. In addition, consumers can receive e-mails on new offers, products and services. Based on this data, Marriott.com will personalize Web page content and e-mail offers.


"We have now built the infrastructure to develop a stronger customer relationship management strategy," said Mara Hannula, director of e-commerce marketing at Marriott. "We're responding to customer needs and making it easier for them to plan and book their travel through Marriott.com."


A registered leisure traveler, for example, can get custom-tailored content, plus links to an online vacation planner, Marriott Rewards account balance and redemption opportunities, a resort site or details about golf courses near Marriott hotels.


For business travelers, Marriott.com offers a personalized home page with links to business-related content and information on high-speed Internet access and The Room That Works, Marriott's guest room for business travelers.


Travel agents who register at the site will find links to special offers and Hotel Excellence, an agent hotel-sales training program. Marriott already has 40,000 e-mail addresses of travel agents who are e-mailed twice a month.


Similarly, event planners will receive customized information on meeting-planning location search, space and budget calculators and Internet requests for proposals.


All information is maintained in a secure environment, according to Marriott, and consumers can view, change and deactivate the profiled data at any time.


"Everything we do is on an opt-in basis and our privacy policy is clearly available on the site," Hannula said. "In fact, we take it so seriously that we have a vice president of information protection, whose primary responsibility is to ensure that we protect customer data at all times."


Besides speeding the trip-planning process, Marriott hopes the tweaks will build its database and convince more Marriott Rewards members to book online; 38 percent currently do.


"We want to create an e-mail database and start value-added promotions," Wolff said.


Marriott is working with Digital Impact, San Francisco, to execute and track e-mails as part of an overall plan to boost the hotel chain's use of the medium for building customer loyalty.


"We're moving aggressively into permission-based e-mail marketing campaigns," Wolff said, "and that's a real key element of what we're going to do."


Though e-commerce accounts for 3 percent of Marriott's total sales -- $400 million this year, up from $150 million in 1999 -- it is the fastest-growing sales channel for Marriott. Telephone reservations accounted for a little less than two-thirds of the $17.7 billion in revenue last year. Travel agents accounted for most of the rest.


Marriott has 2,000 operating hotel units in the United States and 58 markets overseas. Its 13 brands include Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard, Ritz-Carlton, Ramada International and ExecuStay.


While travel sites such as Travelocity.com, Expedia.com and Priceline.com account for nearly one-fourth of Marriott's Internet bookings, it is the 4-year-old Marriott.com that generates the majority of online bookings via 3 million-plus visits each month.


The online changes reflect Marriott's acknowledgment of its site's role in Internet-generated bookings. Marriott.com alone is averaging about $40 million a month in online bookings.


"Our overall business strategy here is to make it easier to do business with Marriott," Wolff said. "We want to sell the way the customers want to buy."
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