Marriott launches an upscale franchise

By Thomas Heath
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hospitality giant Marriott International is launching a new brand called the Autograph Collection, aimed at tapping customers who prefer independent, high-end hotels over brands such as Marriott, Hilton and Four Seasons.

The Autograph Collection will allow independent hotels, many of whom have lost business in the recession, to maintain their character while using Marriott's massive reach to bring in more customers and save on costs.

Marriott, with 3,200 properties worldwide, will operate the new hotels as franchises. The hotel owners will pay Marriott in return for using the giant hotelier's infrastructure, which includes its reservation and Marriott Rewards system, its purchasing power and its online site,

"We can help them save money on food, beverage, supply discounts, credit card fees and third-party online bookers," said Don Semmler, Marriott's executive vice president of brand management.

The company said it is in negotiations with 25 hotels to become franchisees by the end of 2010.

Marriott's marketing plan involves the development of specific hotel categories to accurately tell customers the experience they might have, Semmler said. The initial categories will include boutique arts, historic iconic hotels, resorts, urban edge lifestyle hotels and casino hotels, Semmler said.

There are 1,700 independent hotels, many of whom are trying to cut costs while attracting new customers during the downturn.

Semmler said the purpose of the Autograph Collection is to use Marriott management and marketing to bring a level of consistency to the new hotels, which the company hopes will build trust in the new brand among potential customers.

"The universe of independent hotels has a lot of variation, some good, some bad," Semmler said. "Our research tells us they want a trusted expert to help them navigate, so there is no disappointment."

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