November 19, 2020 By Jennifer Clemente 4 min read

There’s an enduring notion that the desire to explore beyond one’s confines is universal – or core to the human experience. After spending the bulk of 2020 witnessing a dramatic falloff in bookings, the travel industry held its collective breath as eager sojourners finally began to tip-toe out of their homes this summer – releasing pent-up demand for reconnection and discovery.

But today’s landscape for travelers is very different. Road trips are up. International and business travel is down. Group travel is at a near-standstill. Itineraries that allow for last-minute changes and cancellations without penalty are a must-have.

And there are more nuances to getting away for work or play. The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly brought about behavioral and cultural shifts — forcing fundamental changes in how, why, and what sorts of experiences travel brands deliver.

Real-time insights are more critical than ever for detecting variations in traveler behavior and sentiment, information providers need to plan for the future and tailor offerings appropriately. For hospitality giant Marriott International, the quest to know and serve customers is not only data-dependent but central to its mission: “to enhance the lives of our customers by creating and enabling unsurpassed vacation and leisure experience.”

“We have to understand their preferences and to create the experiences we need to traverse Marriott’s physical properties as well as Marriott’s digital properties — and in some cases, our partner properties,” notes Hurkan Balkir, Vice President of Architecture and Application Development at Marriott International. “Data and analytics are essential to the design of these experiences. We need the data to measure the outcomes of these experiences, and also figure out how to personalize the experiences for our customers.”

Watch a 0:47 summary above of a leadership conversation with Marriott International and Anthem, and watch a video of the full conversation (16:22) here.

Two sides of Marriott’s IT investments join hands

Marriott has been on a path toward becoming cloud-based, consumption-modeled and tightly aligned to lines of business using open source and cloud vendors. Departing from its legacy monolithic data-center centric mainframes and appliances has been a boost to its crown jewel — its hefty travel experience platform built on years of experience.

Today, the platform powers Marriott Bonvoy, the largest loyalty program in the industry providing 140 million-plus members access to a diverse brand portfolio and travel experiences, points toward free hotel stays, miles with participating airline programs, and other benefits.

Balkir leads many of the Herculean tasks of moving workloads into the cloud with an eye toward building a robust data analytics environment.  Tens of thousands of internal users are spread across over seven thousand properties and general managers, revenue management teams and analysts. This community needed tools to help them consume, produce and share data simultaneously for better servicing loyalty members, evaluating bookings, and adjusting prices based on weather, events or cancellations.

With Marriott’s migration to modern data stacks complete, the team has deployed Db2® Warehouse on Cloud. This effort has delivered a nearly 90% increase in performance through changing the cluster size — enabling data at scale for a large user group. Now Balkir and his team have their sights set on fine tuning the data governance practice — playing the dual role of data stewards to ensure privacy and security, while at the same time enabling easy access to data.

Using data and AI to design a better customer experience

IBM enjoys a long-term relationship with Marriott International, supporting the platforms behind the company’s enterprise transformation, guiding them along their data modernization journey.

Several years ago, before the company acquired Starwood and the inception of Marriott Bonvoy, IBM data scientists mapped customer data across all their brands covering leisure and business users — a first major step toward building an enterprise data set.

And while Marriott was ahead of the pack then, having access to all that enterprise customer data has yielded even greater value in today’s COVID-19 era. Facing a dearth of business travel, Marriott can switch to market leisure travel experiences, targeting the same traveler while acquiring even more information about the customer. This helps the company market to those leisure travelers in a much more personalized way, understanding who they are, their needs and the right way to reach them.

A large part of aggregating more valuable customer data happens when customers redeem loyalty points with a wide ecosystem of service providers outside the hotel property. That list has grown to include independent restaurants, national parks and a dizzying array of VIP access to concerts, culinary experiences and sporting events.

In other words, an opportunity for Marriott to burn points off its ledger has become a bigger opportunity to optimize the guest experience by ensuring that they stay, eat and shop within the entire ecosystem.

Bonvoy gives Marriott the ability to drive a deeper relationship with customers — and this is critical in a time of more cautious travel where the Bonvoy mobile app is tooled to help customers choose custom experiences and use their points, all while limiting person to person contact.

Thanks to Marriott International’s data and AI investments, Bonvoy can serve up a wide array of niche experiences from within its large and varied ecosystem of brands and partners – from luxury private lodging on the high-end to more casual national park treks for local travelers. For those still homebound, there’s even a “tastecation,” a month-long series of international recipes inspired by hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy around the world.

It’s been said the key to long term success of any services-focused company is to offer services of such quality that the customer is left with no other option than choosing your brand. In that regard, Marriott International has left no stone left unturned in its quest to enhance the lives of loyal customers.

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