Marriott Hotels’ Autograph Collection launched in 2010 with a small group of hotels themed around local culture and the cultural arts, each with an individual identity, a compelling story and a strong sense of place. Building on those themes, Autograph today consists of 57 hotels from New Mexico to Normandy, with another 20 potential partnerships pending in 2014. All of them feature meeting space that defies the bland, big box ballroom.
Last year, there was a decided shift toward the luxury sector in Europe. New high-end, high-profile Autograph properties include: St. Ermin’s Hotel in London, the ex-Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt Hotel outside Dublin, and last month, two Boscolo Hotels in Rome and Milan.
Stateside, the hotel inventory is mixed among price point and style, ranging from family resorts to hunting lodges to the high-watt Millennial magnet, The Cosmopolitan at Las Vegas.
“It’s really about getting the right hotels in the right markets, and when I say that, it’s really about hotels that have an element of distinction,” explains Amanda Altree, senior director, brand marketing at Marriott International. “Autograph Collection has been so successful because there’s such a demand for those hotels that offer a level of enrichment that brings in the local flavor and cultural aspects of a community.”
Altree says Autograph penetrates both small markets and big gateway cities, serving both corporate and association meetings. There is significant demand in tertiary markets because the member hotels are often a little more organic in those smaller destinations, inherently providing authentic local experiences, like Santa Barbara, Savannah and Taos.
However, all of the hotels offer individual experiences that couldn’t be duplicated in any other destination.
“To summarize our true north, it’s about championing independence, and that governs everything we do, whether it’s in operations or sales and marketing,” says Altree. “We want to make sure that our support is building the equity that that hotel has in its independent point of view and its independent voice. And that we don’t have a heavy hand with our own brand standards, or do anything to water down the experience a hotel offers.”
Championing independence is Marriott’s internal dialogue. When speaking with planners, Altree promotes the idea that, “The hotels are exactly like nothing else.” She says that pretty much serves as the Autograph tagline because planners may love one hotel in Asheville, but it’s going to be a much different experience in San Francisco.
We asked Altree, “Who are your target demographics?”
“We do look at demographics but the psychographics are so much more important I think, because we call our target customer the ‘Individualist,’” she explains. “That person is someone who is sophisticated, they’re confident, but they’re a little bit experimental, right? They don’t need a brand to make a decision for them. They’re not reliant on a brand stance, necessarily. They want to try new things, and they’re more trendsetting.”
Most interesting, this psychographic represents a broad, loyal meeting planner base of all ages because the Collection’s development has been organic, growing without the oversight of a big brand dictating operating procedures.
“I love the word ‘organic,’” sums up Altree. “I’ve been in the hotel industry a long time, and I think a lot of hotels do a great job creating experiences, but Autograph Collection is doing that from the ground up, and it’s true to the spirit of the locale. That’s a little harder to convey because so many people have experienced hotels that are the same across market. You know, they’re consistent. Autograph Collection isn’t really even consistent market to market, other than the quality of the experience.”