Interview: Marriott’s Vice President of Marketing, Loyalty and Partnerships tells us about their plans for India

In the third week of May 2021, Marriott Bonvoy offered one of its first post-pandemic offline events as a part of the Marriott Bonvoy Moments for the programme members.

Marriott Bonvoy partnered with Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 to offer unique art experiences and exclusive access to Marriott Bonvoy members. In collaboration with the charitable organisation, The Plated Project, Marriott Bonvoy presented a series of artworks titled ‘A Memory of the Future’ to spotlight Hong Kong as a destination through its arts and culture, inspiring travel as recovery is on the horizon. These plates are also available for sale via The Plated Project website in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.

a circular painting of a garden

Sahiba Madan: Mahjong Tiles

a circular design with a man riding a horse

Suket Dhir: Cantonese Opera










Alongside, as loyalty partner to Art Basel Hong Kong 2021, Marriott also offered its members the ability to get access to Art Basel via the Marriott Moments offering:

  • For Marriott Bonvoy members in Hong Kong, they could secure VIP access to Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 on the VIP days before general public access, redemption packages for Vernissage VIP invitation, private view VIP cards.
  • For Marriott Bonvoy members outside Hong Kong, members could redeem VIP experiences to the Online Viewing Room and select from a programme of curated online events.

On the occasion, I sat down with Julie Purser, the Vice President of Marketing, Loyalty and Partnerships, APAC for Marriott International. Based in Hong Kong, she is responsible for growing, activating and engaging Marriott Bonvoy’s loyalty members, marketing the company’s portfolio, and building strategic partnerships across airlines, financial companies, sports, arts and entertainment partners.

a woman sitting on a chair

Julie and I talked about Marriott’s initiatives in the Asia Pacific region, and also about the plans for India. Here is the interview, edited for brevity.

Ajay Awtaney [AA]: Thank you for doing this. What are the synergies that Marriott and Marriott Bonvoy you saw with Art Basel to tie up for the Hong Kong edition this year?

Julie Purser [JP]: in terms of Art Basel, and terms of your question, you know, we’re always looking for new opportunities and new ways to bring, we call these once in a lifetime or money can’t buy experiences to our members. And we see Art Basel and many of the experiences they provide as one of those. So we teamed up with them in Hong Kong to inspire travel by bringing amazing, exquisite art experiences to our Marriott Bonvoy members.

AA: So what has been the kind of response you’ve seen for Marriott Moments virtually?

JP: Because of COVID and people being at home for so long, everyone wants to get to just experienced something, whether it’s in person or online, but we’ve always seen great uptake for Marriott Bonvoy moments. And I think this year, as in the past, you know, frankly, we probably seen quicker uptake than ever before. All of the VIP private experiences for our members were sold out within the first week. We’ve seen the same kind of take rate for the La Clique events that we’re working on in Singapore. Those were all fully redeemed on the first day, and we’ve had tremendous uptake for the Moments that we’ve had with Mumbai Indians.

So even though they’re mostly all virtual at this point, all of them were taken up also within that first week. So, I think that people are looking for really exclusive interesting events, new things to do in this time where I think it’s been trying for everybody around the world. So lots and lots of great energy and interest in these Marriott Bonvoy Moments.

AA: Shifting focus a bit to India, what’s been the experience of Marriott from the Indian perspective regarding the loyalty programme. I know you have about three million+ members, but what’s the kind of engagement and experience you see with these members in India?

JP: Yeah. Our programme is global by nature. So we have global benefits. We have global rewards and recognition that we have everywhere. And then I think this year more than ever before, especially given the COVID environment and the suppressed ability for people to travel, we’ve tried to be as locally relevant as we can. I like to say that everything became hyper-local.

So, we focus on the enhanced benefits [locally]. There is a dining and spa discount with an Asia Pacific focus. Then we wanted to drive benefits for families [complimentary breakfast for kids], for people looking to get out and dine and enjoy the spas in the Asia Pacific.

And then in India, specifically, we have programmes like Marriott on Wheels. That is our food delivery service that we’re offering across 20+ cities where Mumbai Indians’ members can enjoy 15% off. So we’re working with our partners, and we’re trying to come up with new experiences and ways to engage members locally that we probably wouldn’t have, had it not been for the pandemic.

AA: India has been a price-sensitive market, and most people tend to shop around for the rates. What is the strategy to use the loyalty programme to further the share of direct bookings in India?

JP: We always encourage our members to book direct and we have benefits for members who book direct. So when you book direct, as opposed to an OTA, you get access to our members’ rates, you also earn points on your stay and you get access to all of the benefits we have within our hotels. You know, we try to encourage members to book directly to give them these benefits, but also just to show them that we’re not just a loyalty programme, that we’re a travel programme over time.

Some of what we’re working on is to make sure that we have more benefits and experiences, for that we partner with companies locally to give members access to exclusive events and exclusive discounts. I think one of the benefits, you know, if there are benefits of COVID, I think one of them is that we’ve really recognized the need to be local and to be locally relevant. So things like Marriott-on-Wheels, um, are dipping our toe in the water. There’s a lot more to come in terms of launching programmes that are locally relevant to our members. And I think that hopefully at the end of the day, we’ll encourage more and more members to book direct.

AA: Building on that question of the partnerships. We saw that credit card partnerships are a big thing for a Marriott Bonvoy in Asia. South Korea [launch] has happened and what’s coming up for the Indian credit card lineup?

JP: We are working on things for India, but a timeline is yet to be announced. You’ll be the first to know as soon as we can share it. But right now I just can’t share much on the credit card front.

AA: How’s Marriott working to deliver consistency across Marriott hotels in India for Bonvoy members. I have had some great experiences with select-service properties like Fairfield, but sometimes premium properties, have an inconsistent experience. So have you guys spent some time smoothening out the edges during the pandemic to make sure that things are better when travel returns?

JP: We are always focused on our members. We talk about them as being at the heart of everything we do. We want to make sure that our members have consistent, amazing experiences at all of our hotels. Um, we’re rolling out currently what we call a Loyalty Mindset Academy. We’ve done this before, but you know, the Marriott Bonvoy programme is fairly new. It was introduced in 2019, and then we had a pandemic year plus now where there’s been a lot of change and just really not a lot of travel.

So we are reenergizing this programme. We’re really excited to roll it out again to all of our associates, um, our general managers, everybody on property. And this is [academy is] really to drive that. Making sure that everything we do caters to the needs of our members, no matter where they are.

We’re going to start with this virtually. We’ll do the training virtually over the next few months, across markets, depending on recovery. And then our hope is also to bring this back to the markets live, starting in Q4, and then stretching into 2022.

AA: What are factors that you believe that differentiate Marriott from peers that you have from the Western market that also came to India?

JP: We have the diversity of our portfolio. Of our 24 brands here in the Asia Pacific, we have 16 of them available in India. We have over 120 hotels and we’ve got 70 more in the pipeline to open by 2023. The diversity of our portfolio, of course, is one. I don’t know if you’ve seen our latest opening, but that’s the Westin Goa.

From a programme perspective, we’re really focused on making sure that we are using our programme and talking about travel in a way that really enriches people. And so these tailor-made benefits, you know, the benefits we brought up for families, the Marriott on Wheels programme, and others.

AA: Do you have any closing message for Marriott loyalists in India?

JP: First of all, I think given what’s going on in India right now, I just want to say that, you know, our hearts are with India, with the people of India, with our associates and members in India. Uh, we remain really optimistic about the future of travel and we want to bring those exciting experiences like these Moments events to members in India. We also want to make sure that we create what you just asked for, that really consistent, amazing experience, no matter which hotel. So, for the people of India, we are thinking of them and when travel can and does resume, we are ready to deliver across all of our hotels.

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. My 2 cents as a feedback – they could improve on their communication on the website. For eg. we are few hours away from June and the Courtyard Marriott @ Mahabaleshwar still shows “opening in June 2021”. Also, can’t book it online.

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