Marriott free wifi plan labelled anti-corporate travel

Free wifi for all members of a Marriott loyalty programme should be a cause for celebration, right?

Think again.

The global hotel chain announced last week that it will provide free wifi to the 47 million members of Marriott Rewards.

On the one hand it illustrates how many hotels around the world still do not provide free wifi to guests (but that’s another story), but Marriott’s plan not through also has had the adverse affect of upsetting the Institute of Travel and Meetings.

The catch with Marriott’s plan is that it is only available to Rewards members to who book directly on the Marriott website, its  mobile app, via a call centre or through a particular property.

In other words, not through intermediaries such as corporate travel agencies or travel managers.

Last week, Marriott’s executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer, Stephanie Linnartz, said:

“Free wifi is a meaningful way to reward our most loyal customers and continue to attract next-gen travelers.”

The ITM says the “anti-corporate initiative” is an effort to lure business travellers away from approved corporate channels.

Mark Cuschieri, chairman of ITM’s industry affairs group, says:

“We recognise the importance of rewarding loyal customers with complimentary services or amenities. For hotels, these people usually come from the business travel community.

“But when there is an effort to attract business travellers away from approved corporate channels it becomes a major problem.”

Whilst some may argue that Marriott is trying perhaps to get more direct custom through the front – rather than side – door, the row is essentially at the heart of the debate surrounding managed and unmanaged travel policy.

Giving incentives to loyalty members to go “off-policy” for something as innocuous as free wifi tests the boundaries of what is in or out of a managed travel policy.

As the ITM explains in its formal definition of a managed travel programme:

“…a disciplined approach to processes, suppliers and data for transient and group travel spend, the purpose of which is to deliver measurable results in terms of cost savings, service delivery and risk mitigation.”

The ITM says it has written to Marriott and asked the chain rethink the new wifi programme.

Cuschieri says:

“On behalf of our members, I request that Marriott reconsider its position and simply recognise the traveller for loyalty instead of seeking to use them as an opportunity by stealth to reduce overall distribution costs whilst undermining negotiated corporate hotel deals.”

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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