Six take-aways from the Marriott-Alibaba partnership

In August, Marriott announced its partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. The partnership leverages the chain’s portfolio of more than 6,200 properties worldwide, merging its hotel offerings with Alibaba’s digital retail expertise to provide a variety of hospitality services to more than half a billion Chinese travelers. Customers will be able to book their Marriott stay through Fliggy, Alibaba’s online travel platform, seamlessly manage the planning of their trip on the site, and pay for their stay via Alipay, Alibaba’s online payment application.

In addition to having access to Alibaba’s e-commerce channels, Marriott will be able to market to over 500 million active monthly users. Through the partnership, Marriott will have access to Alibaba’s customer base, providing a link between the two companies’ loyalty programs. The hotel chain will benefit from Alibaba’s assistance with content, programs and promotions customized for the Chinese traveler.

As Stephanie Linnartz, Marriott’s global chief commercial officer, noted, “Alibaba deeply understands the Chinese consumer, and they have 500 million active monthly users on their site. That’s a staggering statistic — it’s significantly larger than the entire U.S. population. Their amazing digital capabilities and insights on Chinese consumers, and lots of retail experience on their platform, coupled with our strengths will lead to great things for both companies.”

With the purchase of Starwood, which had a larger presence in China at the time of the acquisition, Marriott increased its footprint in the country significantly. Now that it has solidified this partnership, the chain can target a growing and more affluent group of travelers while establishing loyalty and brand recognition within this crucial global market.

In thinking about the significance and impact of this partnership, I came up with a few key take-aways that we can all benefit from:

  • Hotel partnerships with OTAs, beyond the traditional commission-based structure, can truly be mutually beneficial.
  • User experience is more important than ever as guests expect a seamless, integrated booking process that includes rate research, the planning of their trip, travel to the destination and effortless payment on digital and mobile platforms.
  • Alternative payment methods such as Alipay, Venmo, PayPal and Apple Pay are increasingly popular and should be embraced.
  • When entering international markets or serving foreign guests, cultural sensitivity is of the utmost importance and barriers to entry are easier to overcome with the support of a native corporation that truly understands that market’s customer.
  • As international travel increases, it may be necessary to further personalize the guest experience for foreign visitors by hiring multilingual employees, providing international television channels and offering diverse menus in culinary outlets.  
  • Think globally and look for opportunities to enter into, or target, other emerging markets with a rising middle class that will soon have discretionary income and the ability to travel internationally.