Marriott International Inc. on Wednesday launched its high-stakes image makeover, unveiling a newly designed guest room replete with 300-thread-count bedsheets, a flat-panel TV and cherry-veneer furniture.
Bethesda-based Marriott debuted the room, meant to compete for the lodging dollars of style-conscious younger travelers, with a splashy Times Square press event hosted by television and radio personality Leeza Gibbons.
Chairman and chief executive J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr. unveiled the room, which will remain on public view through Saturday in front of the Marriott Marquis hotel at West 45th Street and Broadway in Times Square.
The glass-enclosed display room is part of a two-story temporary installation Marriott is calling "mSpot." The top level of the display features a soundstage that will host hip-hop acts and rock bands over the next four days.
In remarks to reporters after the unveiling, Bill Marriott said the new room was part of an effort to upgrade the hotel chain's plain-vanilla image to better compete with boutique offerings such as the W hotel franchise, owned by Marriott competitor Starwood.
"We have to appeal to the X , Y and Z generations," he said. "We want to be cutting-edge. . . . The furniture is more modern, and there are no more bedspreads, just white duvet covers."
Marriott said he expected 98 percent of Marriott hotels to quickly install the new beds. Many have already done so. He said most Marriott-brand hotels should have the new furnishings and TVs and upgraded bathrooms in place in three to four years.
Marriott manages or franchises most of its hotels but owns few of them. So the company is dependent on hotel owners to invest in the upgrades, which are expected to cost $5 billion over five years. Marriott said the new rooms would allow hotel owners to boost room rates by 5 to 10 percent, which he said would easily cover upgrade costs.
Marriott is still the nation's largest hotel chain, but its image has slid somewhat in recent years, especially among younger travelers who have come to expect plush amenities, including more comfortable beds, trendier furniture, and restaurants with high-end cuisine and fine wines. In the District, for instance, hotels owned by the Kimpton chain feature free nightly happy hours with carefully selected wines. W hotels are known for their crowded bar scenes.
The new Marriott rooms eventually will have wireless Internet access, company officials said, as well as a place for travelers to plug in their iPods. Flat-panel TVs will double as computer monitors.