Marriott International is the largest hotel chain with 7,687 hotels worldwide. In India, it is the market leader in room inventory ahead of global and homegrown brands such as Radisson Hotel Group, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Accor, and Hyatt Hotels Corporation. The chain operates seven luxury brands in the portfolio of a large umbrella of 32 brands. Bruce Ryde, vice president for luxury brands and brand marketing at Marriott International Asia Pacific talks to Business Today on the focus areas for Marriott, the potential of non-metro cities, and the outlook of the domestic hospitality market. Edited excerpts:
Business Today: Do you think Asia Pacific is the new focus market for the luxury hotel brands?
Bruce Ryde: We have got 400 luxury properties globally - 138 of those hotels are in Asia Pacific. But what is most interesting is that we have got 200 luxury hotels globally in the pipeline, and 100 of them are in Asia Pacific. That tells a story. Asia Pacific is where luxury is growing. Asia Pacific is where the way our brands look and feel will be decided in the future. We are a Washington-based company but we are a global brand. In my role, a lot of work we do in Asia Pacific is actually heavily influencing what we do globally. That has started to happen a lot more over the last 10 years. Obviously, China was part of that. India is going to play a bigger role as it continues to develop.
BT: What exactly is Marriott doing in India?
Ryde: We have a lot happening. In India, we have 120 hotels. We have got about 26 luxury hotels here, and six are coming imminently. So, we are seeing reasonably strong presence with our luxury brands. We have a strong JW Marriott portfolio and a strong partnership with ITC. We have The Luxury Collection portfolio which has now 14 hotels, and 15th [property] one has just been announced. These are bespoke luxury experiences under the luxury collection umbrella. We have W, St Regis in Mumbai and we have just opened the second Ritz Carlton in Pune.
We have a Ritz Carlton coming in Mumbai, Gurgaon and New Delhi. We have got another W in Mumbai, and we have JW Marriott in Bengaluru, and we have a W in Bengaluru. There is a strong pipeline and lot of other discussions are going on. Our take on brand growth is quite optimistic for luxury in India. Our brands are strong. India does have many luxury products but not a lot of international luxury brands. I think that's starting to change. We are seeing companies like ours with our luxury portfolio; Indian owners realising the strength of being part of a global distribution system, and Marriott Bonvoy (a loyalty and experiences programme) which is powerful. There is quite an undercurrent of quality development happening in Marriott in the luxury space.
BT: How do you differentiate between your 32 brands? Especially in a market like India where you are following managed model. When you go and meet developers, what kind of conversations take place? How do you tell them that they can build a JW or Ritz Carlton?
Ryde: There are multiple factors for each of our brands. Some of our brands have a larger opportunity to develop more of them. JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton are growing globally. I would suspect that in India, they are (growing) faster than our other brands. We have just opened 100th Ritz Carlton in Australia. But St Regis is only 45; it's a smaller brand. We have a hotel here in Mumbai, which is a great example of an iconic St. Regis Hotel - the whole positioning. We really work hard to find another location for St Regis. It's always in the next best address. It's more likely that we will have more Ritz Carltons in the future because it's a brand that has wider distribution. St Regis is a powerful brand but it's more bespoke, and tailored to a lot of specifics.
BT: So you cannot have more than one St Regis in Mumbai or Delhi?
Ryde: I would never say never but we have few cities in the world with more than one St Regis. We have many cities with more than one Ritz Carlton. In some mega cities such as Mumbai, Beijing and New York, potentially with a number of best addresses, we may have more than one St Regis. But right now there is nothing. The other brand is JW Marriott, which is definitely growing in Asia Pacific. We have a strong call for the brand in India. So JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton would be potential brands that we will continue to grow. That's not to say that St Regis won't grow but we are prioritising.
You talk about how we differentiate. That's our job. I call them swimlanes. You can't afford to cross over into somebody else's swim lanes because you will hit someone. Each of our brands has its own strong personality. St Regis is all about the house of Astor, butler service, and St Regis spa. Ritz Carlton is more elegant and gracious. It's all about ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. It's about the club products. It's about the food and beverage. JW Marriott is moving into a mindfulness space. It's about sustainability and being able to escape from crazy, connected world into a place where you can disconnect.
ITC has a very strong stance on sustainability. But every The Luxury Collection with ITC hotel is different whereas when you are in JW Marriott, you know you are in a JW. The W is kind of loud, fun, enjoyable, bright colours, music, fashion, and design. W is very defined in terms of experience.
All of our brands are business and leisure but what we are finding - and this is a big insight with our company - is our focus is on leisure. The leisure market is growing globally. It's no different in India. Business is a given. We have to do a good job with business travel. We have to have connectivity, all services, good food and beverage, spas, gyms - all the things that business people want. But over and above that, we have got to enable people to switch off. Give them an opportunity (to have) transformative experiences. When they come into our luxury brands, they should have opportunities to do something that changes them. With Ritz Carlton, we have a programme called Stellar Dining Series which is a Michelin-star lead dining experiences. Guests can go to the Tokyo fish market, and learn about the food that they are going to eat that night, and cooked to Michelin star standards. Or in W, guests can have an amazing world-class series of trainers, talking about nutrition, exercise, and party.
We say in Ritz Carlton that it's about creating memories. Guests go away but something has connected with them that they can talk about at a dinner party with friends and family and it means something to them. That's what the luxury consumer wants. We know that the luxury consumer in India is moving into that direction as well.
BT: Which segment, business or leisure, is driving the growth of your luxury portfolio in India?
Ryde: We get business travellers. Business travel is driven by corporate accounts and RFPs (request for proposals) and negotiation. The market we work in terms of taking our brands to the next level is leisure, particularly in luxury. Leisure can be part of the business experience. When you go to St Regis bar in the evening, you can learn about how cocktails are made. You take away a little piece of that. You might be a business person, but it's a leisure pursuit.
BT: What are the key elements to make a luxury hotel work in India?
Ryde: In India, it has to be great physical product. There are no doubts about it. An Indian luxury consumer wants to feel something luxurious in their physical surroundings. In India, I know Ritz Carlton is going to be successful because it focusses on ladies and gentlemen looking after ladies and gentlemen. To me, that is an India-centric concept. I know from Oberoi and Taj with the traditional Indian mindset -it's a powerful thing. So very detailed service that is respectful but also knowledgeable. That's a challenge because we have got to find these people and train them. In India, food and beverage is part of an experience. If you don't get your food right in this country, they are not going to come back. So, food and beverages are a big driver as well.
BT: Are you looking beyond metro markets in India to grow the portfolio of luxury brands?
Ryde: We do have focus on resorts. Resort locations are great interest to us. We have 120 hotels. Ultimately, we would like to have lot more hotels in India. We see that there is enormous growth potential. For me, the opening in Pune was very important because Ritz Carlton needs to establish itself in India. It's a famous brand outside of India, but not in India. That's our challenge. It's not a tier-one city. It's an important city but it's not Mumbai. We have realised that there is a lot of power in secondary cities. A lot of the wealth in China, Indonesia and India comes from secondary cities. It makes sense to have luxury hotels there.
BT: You have Four Seasons expanding in India and Taj Hotels is growing rapidly, Airbnb has a luxe segment which is doing well. How Marriott plans to take on the rising competition?
Ryde: Our brands are stronger because of the competition because we have to fight hard to be better. I think competition is really healthy. Ritz Carlton is a key competitor for Four Seasons and Taj. We learn about them, their strengths, and their weaknesses. But we are also focussed on what makes our brands powerful, that is, individual elements of our brands, and constantly working on to refine them. With Ritz Carlton, we are focussed next year to take our club product, which is one of the best executive club products in the hotel industry, to another level.
All our brands have got key focus to keep moving, evolving and being ahead of competitors. Then, the glue that sets us apart, and this is where we believe we have a lead over brands like Four Seasons is our loyalty programme. Marriott Bonvoy is an experiences programme. It's not about just getting points; it's about the fact that guests can access these incredible experiences. They are not just about our brands; we have experiences with Chanel, rock bands, and as we move in India, we could develop experiences with Bollywood.
BT: What's your outlook for the Indian hospitality market?
Ryde: In the world we are in today, I don't think anybody knows the future. At the moment, things are good. The market is solid. Obviously, markets are cyclical, but our brands are strong enough to withstand any kind of changes in the market conditions. But what happens traditionally with Marriott International brands is we tend to increase our market share when times get tough. That's a big story for our owners because of the power of our distribution. We measure market share against all our competitors, and almost every time market softens, Marriott's brands increase their share. It's the size of the organisation, loyalty programme, and our ability to drive business globally.