This year already proves to be a big one for Marriott International with the launch of the European Convention Network, the merger agreement with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and approval to manage three historic hotels in Cuba. All three will help transform the hotel company into the largest in the world.
Launched in early March, the European Convention Network (ECN) is based on the 25-year-old Convention and Resort Network (CRN) in North America, which targets large rotating events and focuses on signing multi-year contracts. While the ECN only has 14 hotels compared to the CRN’s 60 hotels and resorts, it will unite Marriott’s 14 largest properties in Europe, providing an easy solution for meeting planners looking to compare venues for large events. All 14 properties have at least 350 guest rooms, about 27,000 sf of meeting space and adhere to the same standards for meetings and events within Marriott.
“The ECN caters to the European travel market by offering a one-stop shop for meeting planners looking to place large conferences and events in Europe,” says Pauline Bronkhorst, head of the ECN. “Instead of having to contact each property individually, planners now have one point of contact who can recommend a suitable property or properties based on the event requirements.”
Each property and each destination in the ECN is unique and will incorporate local flavor into the events through Meetings Imagined. “This can range from themed coffee breaks, lunches or dinners, using local products for food and beverage functions and recommending local attractions or activities for the event,” says Bronkhorst.
On March 21, Marriott outbid a group of investors led by Chinese insurance company Anbang at $13.6 billion to acquire the hotel company. Stockholders at Marriott and Starwood later approved what the company is referring to as a “definitive merger agreement.” The transaction could close as early as mid-2016. (As part of the agreement, Starwood is no longer permitted to engage in negotiations with Anbang.)
The acquirement of Starwood positions the mega company as the largest hotel chain in the world, with more than 5,500 hotels and 1.1 million rooms worldwide. The room-count addition would benefit Marriott short term, making it more competitive against online travel booking sites such as AirBNB and Google, which is moving into travel distribution.
“The company will have a broader global footprint and the most powerful frequent traveler programs in the industry, strengthening Marriott’s ability to serve guests wherever they travel,” says Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International. “We are also bringing together two of the most talented and experienced teams in the industry. Together, they will combine their innovative ideas and service commitment to deliver unforgettable guest experiences.”
At the same time this latest merger agreement was being signed, both Marriott and Starwood were also planning ventures into the Cuban hospitality market in preparation following President Obama’s expanded efforts to ease travel restrictions to the country. In early March, the US government gave the hotel companies approval to pursue business opportunities in Cuba. Starwood became the first US hotel company to sign a deal with the country since the 1959 revolution shortly thereafter. As part of the Cuban deal, which Marriott would take over when the two companies merge, Starwood agreed to manage and market two properties in Havana and also signed a letter of intent to operate a third.