Will Marriott's New Wi-Fi Program Hurt Corporate Travel Planners?
|Ensemble co-president Libbie Rice|
Last week, Marriott announced that it would offer complimentary Wi-Fi to its Rewards members who book their stays online and toll-free reservations numbers—possibly affecting how groups can negotiate free Internet access for their event attendees.
Members of Marriott Rewards, the company's loyalty program, who book directly through Marriott.com, Marriott's mobile app, 1-800-MARRIOTT or through a Marriott hotel would receive free standard Wi-Fi, starting January 15, 2015.
Ensemble Travel Group co-president Libbie Rice spoke with International Meetings Review's sister publication Travel Agent, criticizing the company's decision to leave out other booking channels.
"Obviously Marriott can do what they like to do, in terms of giving an additional benefit to their most valuable guests for being part of their program," Rice said. "The disconnect is only doing it in direct bookings."
Marriott has a huge footprint in terms of the number of properties and brands this policy will affect, Rice pointed out, and this decision could hit corporate and business travelers who have to book through a travel agent particularly hard.
"I think they're doing a disservice to business travelers in not supporting the GDS," said Rice.
When asked about the response from Ensemble's owner community, Rice said, "Our members are not happy about it, and [Marriott] will feel the repercussions on that. We have certainly shared our thoughts with Marriott."
The new Wi-Fi 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.