In an effort to recruit staff from communities with little exposure to the lodging industry, Marriott International has crafted its own Facebook game to simulate the complexity and bustle of keeping a hotel in business.
The first version of My Marriott Hotel takes place in the hotel kitchen where players must shop for ingredients, purchase cookware, field food orders, and hire and train chefs on a fixed budget. Other tasks, such as housekeeping and room service, are forthcoming.
“It gives people a realistic view for the kind of decisions that have to be made and the pace of the work,” said David Rodriguez, executive vice president of global human resources. A link in the game to “Do It For Real” takes you to the company’s career page.
The hotelier’s foray into social gaming may be the most sophisticated embrace of social media yet for an industry that has found it an increasingly important way to connect with potential guests and guard their reputation.
“At this point they are taking it pretty seriously,” said Holly Zoba, senior vice president for hospitality sales at Signature Worldwide, which trains hotels to use social media. “They’re scratching their head still a bit wondering where it belongs. Is it a customer service thing? Is it a sales thing? I don’t think all of those things have been fleshed out . . . but they’re working on it.”
Most of the major hotel brands have a presence on social networks like Twitter and Facebook and regularly monitor the myriad travel Web sites where disgruntled customers may vent their frustration.
But the Marriott game is unique in that it aims to generate interest in the international chain as an employer rather than a place to spend the night. The company has as many as 50,000 positions to fill around the globe by year’s end.
Many of those jobs exist abroad where Marriott is rapidly expanding its footprint into countries whose economies are chugging along mightily, such as China and India. But cultural differences pose a hurdle to hiring, Rodriguez said.
Thus the game targets young people in those countries in a place where they’ve begun to spend increasing amounts of time: the Internet. Social games, driven in part by the popularity of FarmVille, are now a go-to time sink.
“That’s why we’re in it,” Rodriguez said. “Our business is all about relationships. The relationship with our customers. The relationship with our associates. And in the 21st century, social media ia absolutely an indispensable part of keeping strong relationships with these stakeholders.”
Marriott has had past success in the online environment. Chief executive Bill Marriott launched a blog in early 2007. A Washington Post report in August 2008 said it had driven $5 million in bookings from people who clicked through to the reservation page.
But the return on investment for social media is rarely so clear-cut, according to Stuart Levy, assistant professor at George Washington University’s Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management. Questions linger about whether tweets and Facebook posts translate to reservations, he said.
In fact, a Marriott spokesman said the company doesn’t measure success on social media by revenue. The number of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter, as well as how often they interact with the brand, serve as a benchmark instead.
“It gets to the point where if you’re not there you may not have a problem today, but if you’re not in there playing with it, you’re going to be missing a big piece of tomorrow’s relationships with consumers and employees,” Rodriguez said.