Bizarre Interview With Marriott’s CEO

Sean O’Neill from Skift interviewed Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano and the whole thing struck me as.. strange?

He incorrectly claims Marriott had the first hotel loyalty program. He talks about resort fees as incredible for customers. And he talks about how much control is necessary over hotel stays, even as they defer more and more to individual owners.

Early on Capuano noted that group business has returned faster than transient business travel, and this wasn’t what was expected early in the pandemic. That’s an important observation: everyone expected large gatherings to come last, because super spreader events would remain a concern. However people are going back to conferences, but they aren’t going back to offices. That’s not out of fear of Covid (travel and dining out have recovered, while major city office occupancy has not).

When employees aren’t in-office, not only don’t you visit clients in their offices to the same degree but consultants don’t do their typical client-site Monday – Thursday work weeks. So those consultants aren’t staying in hotels.

So far, so good. But he incorrectly claims that Marriott had the first hotel loyalty program. Someone probably told him that Marriott has the oldest continuously-run hotel program, and he lost some of the nuance. Holiday Inn was first, but their program was too generous and they shut it down before rebooting it. So in a sense Marriott, tracing back to the Honored Guest program, is the oldest. But it wasn’t first.

  • Holiday Inn’s Priority Club launched January 1983
  • Marriott Honored Guest began in November 1983
  • However Priority Club was closed, and then relaunched, in 1986.

He talks about how resort fees at Marriott are overwhelmingly positive for the customer without acknowledging their deceptive nature or if they were actually positive they could be voluntary.

O’Neill then asks Marriott’s Capuano why they don’t do codeshares with hotels the way airlines do with flights. Hyatt, for instance, effectively does this with MGM resorts and with SLH hotels (and I called it code sharing when the MGM relationship was introduced 9 years ago). Capuano explains,

[W]e all want to own that relationship with the guest. There are lots of intermediaries, lots of disruptors. When we think figuratively about the moat that protects us, it’s the ownership of the stay. And so I think we are hesitant to let somebody participate in that stay.

What a strange answer – Marriott doesn’t ‘codeshare’ with hotels because the most important thing is for Marriott to ‘own the stay’. And yet,

Rather than ‘owning the stay experience’ Capuano actually points out that out of “8,100 hotels, we own 20 today.” They have a brand they license to other owners. And they’ve seemed more interested in placating owners and generating short-term fee revenue than protecting the brand.

So why does Marriott still have 30 brands? The true answer is that it means they can sell more contracts to hotels, both having more products to offer at different price points to owners and because those contracts generally only include exclusivity over a given area for that individual brand. More brands = more hotels = more fees.

Capuano though says that he can’t sell brands because he doesn’t own the hotels (yet it happens all the time) and that individual owners would be unhappy leaving Marriott because of the strength of Bonvoy, and they’d have to be let out of contracts. For Bonvoy, by the way, he’s now citing a figure of 170 million members. You’d certainly lop off a large portion by asking about active members that have transacted in the past couple of years.

Here’s the talk, and I did learn that the Moxy Nashville doesn’t just lack desks in rooms, they have rooms with no windows as well – and argue that it’s a selling point.

As I was touring the hotel, the general manager said “Do you want to see any of the vampire rooms?” I said “I’m not sure.” But these are… The Moxy rooms are 140ish square foot rooms. These are rooms with no windows. They were programmed deliberately because the musicians that are out (until) five in the morning, they wanted this little sanctuary to come in.

At least this time he wasn’t arguing China has the model Covid response, that workers are paid too much or that guests have a ‘short-term memory’ and should be more ‘sensitive’ to the needs of owners to earn a buck off of them.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Two thoughts:

    1) If resort fees are good then Marriott wouldn’t settle all of the lawsuits filed over resort fees; let alone enter into a pro-consumer settlement with Pennsylvania.

    2) If Marriott wants to own a guest’s experience then it needs to buy the hotels flying its flag or require owners to use Marriott as the management company. Most of the documented problems aren’t happening at Marriott-operated properties, which account for less than 30% of the company’s portfolio across all brands. Rather, they’re happing at the more than 70% of properties managed either by the franchisee or a third-party hired by the franchisee.

  2. Lesson for all you kids out there from this interview: STAY OFF DRUGS!

    He has completely lost touch with reality if he thinks resort fees are good for the customer.

  3. Presumably, there is a trial lawyer out there watching this. His resort fee comments that Marriott requires a hotel charging a resort fee to be pre-approved and then provide at least four or five times’ value could be interesting in terms of class-action litigation.

  4. So much much Marriott corporate hot air spin your blog and all of us are spinning too!!

  5. I’ve had a running battle w Marriott (and capuano) for a couple years now.
    I’m at Ambassador status which is meaningless to most franchise owners.
    Marriott has disrupted themselves and their corporate personnel, at all levels, are delusional when it comes to the core business proposition:
    Making staying at a hotel pleasant for the travelers NOT the franchise owner.
    Should the franchise owner “make a profit”?
    Of course, if they earn it.
    I’ve gone from 3-4 nights per week in a Marriott to less than one per week.

  6. Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano is correct about their resort fees being incredible for customers. But, unfortunately, Marriott resort fees are an incredible rip-off.

  7. The man is completely detached from sanity if he thinks “resort fees” are good for consumers. They are simply a way of lying about prices and getting an unfair leg up on honest properties in searches. They need to be banned. As Gary points out, if they are really good for customers they could be voluntary. The man is mendacious. Boycott properties with these scam charges.

  8. The worst part is the franchise agreements explicitly envision waiver of resort fees for guests holding certain status tiers in the Bonvoy program. It’s just that nobody has implemented it. It’s like Marriott International’s hotel development division doesn’t talk to Marriott’s loyalty division.

  9. Agree.
    I was shocked to find out that in Aruba and HI I couldn’t go to the lounge without paying an exorbitant fee and I have Ambassador status!
    I blew it off.

  10. It won’t be long, and Marriott will go Hertz on its customers and wonder why they are complaining about getting arrested for checking out late or asking for more towels, or maybe even asking for room service.

  11. I’ll concede one thing here – I can see a windowless room (as an option) being a possible benefit.

    If there’s one thing that ruins a stay for me it’s being on a hard Business Trip, having ONE day where I have a few open hours in the early morning and might be able to sleep in and recover, and at 6:30 a.m. the sunlight comes flooding in around the cheap window dressing and makes it impossible to sleep.

    In that scenario, while I would prefer the better window dressing that some hotels have invested in, I would consider it a benefit to have an option for a windowless room vs. a room that will be flooded with sunlight at the break of dawn.

  12. This is all just a continuation of the blather that Arne tried to foist off on the public when he was CEO. Slice it any way you want, Marriott simply couldn’t care less about the guest paying to stay in their branded hotels. It’d be refreshing for Capuano to go all “Bullworth” and simply state that truth.

  13. Well, doesn’t resort fees technically save customers a few bucks since they are not subject to local taxes? Compared to the same amount rolled in room rate before taxes, separate fees are cheaper

  14. Just wow….thank god we have Hyatt. If not I just might start full time camping in my rental car.

  15. @Christian: Did the CEO even call the guests “customers”? He kept calling the owners and third-party management companies “partners.” Most people don’t realize that Marriott’s real customer isn’t the guest. Rather, the real customer is the owner. The guest is merely the product that Marriott sells to get an owner to fly a Marriott flag. Besides lower standards and costs, I don’t understand why owners like Marriott over IHG or Hyatt or Hilton. Marriott has so much brand dilution that all the great hotels are penalized by all the bad properties. Why would anyone invest in Marriott, Sheraton, Renaissance, etc. when the average Marriott, Sheraton or Renaissance in North America is a dump?

  16. Quoting FNT Delta Diamond: “Why would anyone invest in Marriott … when the average Marriott, Sheraton, or Renaissance in North America is a dump?”

    30+ years with Marriott Rewards/Bonvoy and I am disgusted with the decline.

  17. @Andy (the other one)

    Resort fees can be taxed. It just depends on the local jurisdiction. I paid taxes on resort fees in Nevada, Chicago and new York City…

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