by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 26, 2017
At face value, the Marriott and Starwood merger into one 30-brand-strong company resulted in immediate sales and marketing synergies, not to mention a united loyalty program never before seen in the hospitality industry. Behind the scenes, however, some equally powerful synergies are playing out, particularly in the group segment, as these two former rivals link arms in a show of united strength and market dominance.
 
In the first six months of this year, Marriott's Convention & Resort Network added 39 Starwood Hotels & Resorts properties to its by-invitation-only portfolio, bringing the network's portfolio to 106 hotels across North America, Mexico, the Caribbean and now Canada. Driving that accelerated growth pace are the Sheraton and Westin brands, eager to become part of a well-oiled machine that has long been Marriott's core driver of group revenue. 
 
"Yes, we have added a lot of new hotels year, but we absolutely do not have a grow-at-any-cost approach," said Todd Sherstad, director of Marriott's CRN. "In fact, we are very particular about what hotels we invite. They have to meet certain physical as well as sales criteria and be a good fit for the other hotels in the network."
 
Among Starwood hotels that secured an invitation were 19 from Sheraton Hotel & Resorts and 17 from Westin Hotels & Resorts. What you won't find, however, are any of the 38 hotels that make up Delta Hotels & Resorts properties, the Canadian brand that Marriott acquired in 2015 from parent company Delta Hotels Limited Partnership for approximately US$135 million. While noting that no plans are on the immediate horizon to add any Delta properties, Sherstad did enthuse that "Suddenly, the CRN is the cool place to be associated with."
 
Delta Hotels notwithstanding, the CRN marched into Canada this year, adding four new members -- two in Toronto and one each in Montreal and Vancouver. "Prior to the Olympics, Vancouver was not on a lot of people's lips," said Sean Antonson, regional director of sales and marketing for the 746-room Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, which features over 53,000 square feet of meeting space. According to Antonson, group and meeting business for the property, which completed a US$37 million renovation in 2016, represents 50 percent of that hotel's revenue, with the bulk coming from within Canada. "My understanding is that Marriott takes the CRN network very seriously, and we are learning as we go. We are looking to grow our inbound U.S. group segment, so it is definitely an important step for us," Antonson said.
 
The CRN will add another significant Canadian member later this year, when the Parq Vancouver opens. The US$640 million project will feature two luxury hotels within one complex -- the 329-room JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and the 188-room Douglas -- with combined meeting and event space totaling 62,000 square feet. In addition, the LEED gold-certified complex, adjacent to BC Place Stadium, will feature eight award-winning chef restaurants, several bars and lounges, a 72,000-square-foot casino, a 30,000-square-foot rooftop park graced with 200 mature trees, and a full-service Spa by JW.