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Marriott believes a co-branded credit card can help it build traveller loyalty in India

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

December 20, 2023 | 8 min read

The Drum hears from Marriott’s marketers in APAC on the hotel chain’s plans for India on the back of its first co-branded credit card launch, booming wedding business and the resurgence in travel.

Marriott's big plans for the Indian travelers

Marriott's big plans for the Indian consumers

Hospitality brands in India have been busy capitalizing on the post-pandemic resurgence in travel, launching new properties and seeking to build loyalty for their existing portfolio.

Recently, Marriott joined forces with India’s HDFC Bank to launch the country’s first co-branded hotel credit card. The hotel giant hopes the move will help it attract a new generation of travelers into its fold.

Marriott’s long journey to the credit card launch

Ranju Alex, area vice-president, South Asia, Marriott International: “Great initiatives always take time. Of course, we would have come much earlier but the pandemic did slow it down. With Covid-19, the focus shifted to survival, getting the hotels back into action and winning the market.

“Again, there is a lot of back-end work that goes on when both companies are extremely stringent of processes and value systems.

“We are happy that we are still first in the industry. There has been no co-branding of a credit card with a hospitality chain. It gives more thrill when we are the first movers.”

The opportunity for a co-branded credit card in an under-served market

Ranju Alex: “In our life more is less and we continue to grow whatever we have. While we are in a very good space today – and the industry, in general, is in a good space - we have to think long-term and loyalty. Long-term gets you loyalty.

“With a long-term play of loyalty, it is an ethos that we are building.

“Even though we are in the driver’s seat with our distribution, our sales teams, and the number of hotels and cities in India and in the world – the idea is to continue to win. And not just win today but even 15 or 20 years later. This is one of the steps we are taking towards that journey.”

Connecting loyalty with future-proofing the business

Ranju Alex: “We want not just this generation to come but even the next generation to be loyal. We want add-on cards for the teenage kids of the guests coming to us. We are greedy that way. It is never enough.

“Being in the driver’s seat is a good situation to be in but we want to cushion ourselves against any downturn this world may see again. And one of the ways to do that cushioning is via loyalty. So even when we are doing well, the idea is to do even better. And this is one of how it is being done.

“Today the traveller has so many options to choose from and the task for us is to ensure that he comes to us. Loyalty is what makes a person walk into that door and remain there."

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The launch plan

John Toomey, chief sales & marketing officer, Asia Pacific (excluding China) at Marriott International: “With this launch, India becomes the 4th market in Asia and the 10th market globally where the cobranded card has been launched. In Asia, it has been launched in Japan, Korea and China.

“Basis our learnings from the other markets, we plan to have aggressive marketing throughout the year and at all touchpoints. A key learning is not to let the foot off the gas, at all and be consistent.”

Brand campaign:

Increasing the ‘brand love’ and the ‘share of wallet’ for Marriott

John Toomey: “At Marriott, we always talk of ‘share of wallet’ but the task is to get there. For that, it is imperative to have the customers come and stay with us and experience our 31 brands and many hotels.

“If the consumer will love the brand, the money will come. Love and money go together and that is our philosophy behind increasing our ‘share of wallet’.”

Making Bonvoy the pillar of the Marriott playbook

Ranju Alex: “We currently have 4.5 million loyalty members in India under Marriott Bonvoy and we have to continuously grow it.

“Thus, going forward, a lot of the Marriott marketing will be around Bonvoy as the pivot and the focal point.

“Even while the hotels may have their individual marketing activities, it would be ultimately built around the loyalty program.”

Unique to India - the great Indian weddings

Ranju Alex: “The wedding segment is uniquely Indian and it is a big segment for us and for the hospitality segment. When a hospitality company does 6000 weddings a year, which is what Marriott is doing, it is a big number.

“Between 15-20 percent of the company’s revenues come from weddings in Marriott India. That segment continued to be robust even during the pandemic, with weddings being booked as soon as the rules were relaxed. It continues to be a huge segment for the industry- and for Marriott.”

Reaching the midway point in the portfolio

John Toomey: “Currently there are 16 brands present in India out of the total 31 brands in the global portfolio. Marriott’s 17th brand – Moxy - is soon to be launched in India. Moxy is one of the hottest brands globally and it would be amazing to get in India.

“Moxy is like a younger version of W (a premium and colorful brand in the Marriott portfolio) and is full of energy. The Indian market has not seen a brand like Moxy and it would be very exciting for young consumers.”

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