Marriott Gets Aggressive with SME Business Travel Program

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Marriott Gets Aggressive with SME Business Travel Program


Marriott International launched on Tuesday a long-awaited new SME program. But if you thought it took a year to roll out discount and loyalty program, that wasn’t exactly the strategy. Instead, the hotel giant has introduced a travel management program option for small and midsize enterprises. It’s call
Business Access by Marriott Bonvoy, and while on the surface it may not look exactly like a business loyalty
program for SMEs—it is very much that, too.

Built on a Spotnana technology stack, the program follows a
similarly aggressive strategy forged
by Qantas (also on Spotnana technology) to function as a de facto travel
management tool for small and midsize companies. Target companies, however, would
have to have the appetite to go all-in with Marriott as an accommodations
provider for their travelers to optimize the full set of travel management and
expense tools. If they do, however, Marriott is ready to deliver robust loyalty
benefits in return, plus access to flight, rail and car rental content, along
with a booking and expense reporting capabilities and management reports.

The SME discount and points program included in Business
Access offers a number of traditional benefits. Member companies are eligible
for discounts at hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio and simultaneously
earn points for future stays, room upgrades, etc. Volume thresholds also come
into play. Upon reaching companywide usage thresholds, members earn Elite
status awards that they may transfer to individual travelers within their
company. According to the eligibility terms posted on the Marriott website,
member companies must be a registered legal business and they must apply to be
accepted into the program. Travel agencies and companies with preferred corporate
contracts do not have access to the program.

Non-traditional program benefits, however, provide travel
management functionalities that SMEs often access via a travel management
company partner. Marriott—like Qantas—looks to be providing an option that could
delay TMC adoption for the SME set by providing end-to-end tools that support self-service
travel policy parameters and spending limits, broader flight, rail and car
rental booking and changes, interactive traveler location maps and disruption
monitoring, as well as the option to use a built-in expense management module.

In order to earn benefits for their company and maintain data
visibility for other booking and spend management, travelers must be Marriott
Bonvoy loyalty members and they must book their travel directly with Marriott
through the Business Access platform. Individual travelers will continue to
earn their personal loyalty benefits.

Competition for Lightly-Managed Travel

“We
recognize the significant value small businesses provide to the hotel industry,
which is why we’re excited to combine the benefits of our award-winning travel
program with a comprehensive suite of tools in Business Access by Marriott
Bonvoy,” said Marriott EVP and chief revenue and technology partner Drew Pinto,
in a statement. He continued: “Whether small to medium-sized businesses are
looking for convenient online booking capabilities for their employees or
better expense management solutions, the all-in-one platform, merged with our
portfolio of hotel brands around the world, provides everything they need to
manage their business travel needs.”

Pinto could
have been talking about any travel category—not just hotels. The competition to
capture the SME business travel segment has been fierce, but strategies like
this might be limited to the fortunate few when it comes to category-specific
suppliers.

Marriott
can make this move because its hotel footprint is so large—nearly 8,900 properties
across 10,000 locations, according to its website—and brand portfolio so deep at
30-plus that it conceivably can support the accommodation needs of the vast
majority of small and midsize enterprises. Qantas, for its part, controls a 66
percent share of Australia’s domestic airlift, giving it entrée to be a company’s
single preferred air carrier domestically and, potentially, in the region. Both
companies, therefore, can position themselves as a legitimate provider of
travel management tools with robust functionalities but still position
themselves as the single content provider for their respective categories.

TMCs aren’t
missing the memo. Recent acquisitions—and even the big one that is pending of
CWT by American Express Global Business Travel—have focused on this market.
Travelperk’s recent Amtrav acquisition will deepen its SME roots in the U.S.
Amex GBT’s Egencia get nearly three years ago was an SME strategy. If CWT goes
through, the volume play could deliver big value to SME clients that doesn’t
have their own corporate deals in place.

An
interesting move by New Zealand-based travel technology company Serko may
position that company to get into direct technology relationships with SMEs that
similarly seek to short-circuit the quick adoption of traditional TMC partners.
Former Travel Leaders president and Airbnb for Work commercial lead David
Holyoke has taken on a new role there as head of “unmanaged travel.” The
company’s booking platform Zeno already powers Booking.com for Business,
targeted to lightly-managed SME programs. How the tech company engages on the unmanaged
front remains to be seen. Whatever the strategy—for any of these companies—to tap
into the unmanaged SME market, they will be competing against a number of
enticing options.

Business Access
by Marriott Bonvoy, the newest option on the block, is available to small to
medium-sized businesses based in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle
East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Marriott anticipates expansion
to other regions.



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