07 September 2010

Hotels - Marriott gets more Cosmopolitan

Back in February of this year, I wrote a post about large hotel chains emulating some of the smaller independent hotel groups such as Kimpton and Joie de Vivre, as well some of the other big chains with edgier brands (like Starwood's W Hotels).

Marriott has two significant initiatives underway, one of which is the Autograph Collection. (The other is the Edition brand.)  The Autograph Collection is a select group of existing independent hotels, that do not need to conform to the usual Marriott brand standards for service and appearance, but rather remain their high-end and distinctive selves without the Marriott name . The advantage for Marriott is that it can now offer a growing array of non-cookie cutter hotels, and tie its vast Marriott Rewards loyalty program members ever more tightly to its bosom.

For the independent hotels that join the Autograph Collection, they get the big advantage of having Marriott’s distribution system and loyalty program on its side. Guests like being able to accrue points in the Marriott program even while staying in an independent hotel, and enjoy redeeming points at an independent property in an attractive location.

Since my business is all about booking hotels for business travelers, I see first-hand how loyalty programs really do drive where travelers stay – both business and pleasure.

Marriott recently announced a new member of the Autograph Collection: the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Two things are striking about this choice.

One, is that the hotel has not even opened yet; the opening is slated for 15 December 2010. Marriott is making a bet on a property that doesn't yet have any kind of reputation for service.  (Will they have a role in the training of the staff, perhaps?)

Two, is that it is a hotel casino.  A really, really big casino.

Marriott’s other properties in Las Vegas do not have casinos. Their Marriott and Renaissance brands – the only full-service hotels among them – are located close to the convention center and Strip but are not on the Strip and simply are not the places you go if you want the Vegas experience.

The Cosmopolitan on the other hand has a great location in between the huge new CityCenter development (blogged about in May) and Bellagio. It is a huge, multi-tower colossus, that unusually (for this era) puts the 100,000 square foot casino at sidewalk level like older properties in both Las Vegas and Reno.

The Autograph Collection isn't intended to be solely smallish boutique-type properties and I know for sure you couldn't call a 3000 room hotel a boutique property! It certainly will be the first of its kind for Marriott in Las Vegas.

And a coup, I think, because none of the other major hotel chains has a hotel casino hotel on the Strip. Hilton has the huge Las Vegas Hilton but it’s by the convention center. Otherwise most of the big Strip hotel casinos are part of either the gaming-oriented Harrah’s and MGM Resorts chains. Technically, it won’t have the Marriott name on it but the Cosmopolitan will be closely linked via the Marriott Rewards program.

It's an interesting step for Marriott and a good move for the Cosmopolitan, whose road to opening has been anything but a smooth one.

Finally, a one sentence additional Autograph Collection note. Starting September 2010, an iconic New York hotel, whose doors have been open for a long time (1902) will be part of the Autograph Collection: the Algonquin.

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