Travel industry organizations continue to weigh in on Marriott International's plan to offer free Wi-Fi to its Marriott Rewards loyalty program members -- but only if they book direct.
Signature Travel Network has announced that the organization is in conversation with Marriott regarding the new plan.
In a written release, Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature, comments, “Travelers have come to expect Wi-Fi to be available when traveling. We applaud Marriott’s decision to reward repeat guests with complimentary access, but we are sincerely concerned regarding their decision to circumvent the professional travel consultants. As an industry that is built on repeat and referral business, we hope Marriott recognizes that many of their most frequent and valuable guests are customers of travel consultants. More specifically, they are the clients of travel consultants who have originally brought them to the Marriott brand.”
In the statement Signature also emphasized that Marriott is a "long-term nd valued partner" to Signature and the travel agent community, and that Signature hopes Marriott will change course and include travel agents in this opportunity.
The statement makes Signature the latest industry organization to respond to Marriott's plan. In an interview with Travel Agent, Ensemble Travel Group co-president Libbie Rice criticized the decision, and pointed out that Ensemble had also made its concerns clear to the hotel company.
"Our members are not happy about it, and [Marriott] will feel the repercussions on that," Rice said. "We have certainly shared our thoughts with Marriott."
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has also been critical of Marriott's decision, arguing that the policy discriminates against consumers who use travel agents.
"Our message was clear: the policy discriminates against consumers who use travel agencies and is not likely to be well received by them," said ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby in a statement. "We explained our understanding that most travelers now expect Wi-Fi to be available when traveling. Marriot’s plan to offer free Wi-Fi as an inducement to travelers who book direct with a Marriot brand or through Marriott.com will disadvantage loyal travelers who use the travel agency distribution channel."
The new benefit will be available at Marriott Hotels, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Gaylord Hotels, Autograph Collection, AC Hotels by Marriott, and Marriott Executive Apartments, as well as Marriott Rewards' luxury partner, The Ritz-Carlton. Brands that already offer free Wi-Fi -- EDITION, Moxy, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Marriott Vacation Club -- will not be affected.
Additionally, Marriott Rewards members at the higher Platinum and Gold Elite tiers will continue to have access to free enhanced Wi-Fi, which offers faster download speeds and the ability to stream movies and other media, as an exclusive benefit (where available). Other members may upgrade to enhanced Wi-Fi for a fee.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for further updates on this developing story.