ONSITE: Marriott International Inc. Announces Ambitious Objectives

San Francisco—The buzzword at Marriott International's 2007 Full Service General Managers Conference was "connectivity." The conference, which concludes Tuesday, was held at the San Francisco Marriott and Travel Agent was on hand to witness the new developments Marriott International will deliver across its variety of brands in the months and years to come. The company is heading into its 80th year and its 50th as a lodging company. Marriott Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, and Renaissance Hotels & Resorts will become the first lodging brands to offer high-definition, LCD TVs with a digital connectivity panel in all its guest rooms in the U.S. and Canada. Using the new plug-in panel, guests can connect a variety of digital devices to view on the flat panel, high-definition screen, including laptops, camcorders, digital cameras and video games. The standard 32-inch TVs also are equipped with a 25-watt stereo speaker system so guests can listen to music on their MP3 players and iPods—no headphones required. Marriott's new Great Room concept also was previewed at the conference. The company is introducing extensive renovations portfolio-wide to renovate, redesign and reinvent its public and lobby spaces. Look for lobbies to become more customer-friendly, as evidenced by the 5–10–20 minute concept, which addresses the various eating, socializing and meeting needs of guests. In addition to décor and interior design, the Great Room concept will use lighting and scent to bring the space to life. The Great Room will have both social zones and individual zones, with plenty of opportunities for guests to plug in and stay connected outside their rooms. It was noted that 50-plus years ago, the hotel lobby was a central meeting place. Over the years, this changed into the hotel lobby being something to traverse on the way to one's room. The Great Room concept is at least partly an attempt to regain these past glory years of the hotel lobby. Last year, Marriott International went smoke-free in its U.S hotels. When asked if the company would continue this initiative worldwide, Robert J. McCarthy, president, global brand management and North American lodging operations, Marriott International, Inc. said, "We're taking it on a country by country basis. We're talking with Australia, New Zealand and certain European countries. Smoke-free isn't a concern for emerging countries." The company also announced plans to renovate fitness centers, making them 60 percent larger on average than current facilities. In other news, Marriott International declared it joined forces with Clean Up the World, a leading global environmental organization with 35 million volunteers in 120 countries. Marriott International launched the new partnership with a Save the Bay clean-up effort involving more than 50 Marriott general managers. Travel Agent dug in side by side with the GMs, planting over 300 seedlings in an effort to reclaim the bay for indigenous plants. According to Charles W. Linaburg, director of community relations and corporate projects for Marriott International, look for the company to develop its community efforts as options for corporate team-building clients and meetings groups. In a changing world, various executives noted the tremendous profits from bookings online. The hotel's web site accounted for over $4 billion in bookings in 2006. It also was noted how important the growing outbound China market (currently 300 million travelers) was to the future growth of the company. When asked how these developments would affect U.S.-based travel agents, Michael E. Jannini, executive vice president and general manager of global brand strategy and innovation for Marriott responded that the rates on the company's web site are identical to the rates presented to travel agents, and that full integrity between the two will remain. It was later noted that travel agents are responsible for 30 percent of Marriott's transient bookings, and that the bookings on the web site for the most part represent a customer shift from booking over the toll-free number, to booking on the web site. Visit [www.marriott.com].