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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 12, 2011

San Diego Marriott MarquisLast week Marriott International announced plans to bring its Marquis product to Texas. The 1,003-room Austin Marriott Marquis, scheduled to break ground mid-2012, will be two blocks from the city's convention center and will have 110,000 square feet of meeting space. The project brings the number of Marquis-designated properties to five (including Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2013), which makes for an interesting observation on brand extension -- and some confusion.

According to Marriott, "Marquis" is an extension of its Marriott Hotels & Resorts brand. It got off the ground in the 1980s with the opening of three massive convention-heavy hotels: the 1,663-room Atlanta Marriott Marquis, the 1,499-room San Francisco Marriott Marquis and the 1,946-room New York Marriott Marquis, all of which have more than 100,000 square feet of event space.

JW Marriott Marquis MiamiThe Marquis designation didn't appear again for another 25 years, until last year when Marriott stepped up its efforts to grow the Marquis name, by reflagging properties (such as the San Diego Marriott Hotel) and marrying the name to its upscale JW brand. In November 2010, the 257-room JW Marriott Marquis Miami opened, to be followed by the 1,612-room JW Marriott Marquis Dubai in 2012.

Given all the emphasis hotel companies place on brand identity and positioning, I was more than a little confused. The Austin press release stated, "Marquis properties are 1,000-plus-room large upscale convention hotels with services and amenities tailored for large groups." That description certainly fits with the other Marquis properties. So, what's with the JW combination? Will it create confusion for consumers? Is a JW Marriott Marquis different than a regular JW Marriott?

I asked Marriott to clarify, and a spokesperson would only say by e-mail, "Under the Marquis designation, Marriotts are larger than JW Marriotts with a minimum of 1,000 guest rooms. While Marriott Marquis is located in city centers, JW Marriott Marquis are located within the city center or in a gateway city. JW Marriott Marquis also offers an enhanced amenity program, fitness center with a sports club environment, spa and boutique or lifestyle retail." The JW Marriott Marquis Miami certainly meets the JW criteria, but with not even close to 300 rooms, it certainly doesn't measure up to Marquis model.

One hotel executive, who asked not to be named, shared this opinion: "If Marriott is really serious about its Marquis designation, why isn't the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile a Marquis? It's got more than 1,000 rooms. Maybe they are running out of names to distinguish properties."

Well, that's as good an explanation as I've heard thus far. If anyone can enlighten me further, please comment.