by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 12, 2016

To a gathered crowd of Marriott International executives, media and representatives from the Charlotte City Council and Charlotte Convention Center in North Carolina, Marriott Hotels, the flagship brand of Marriott International, today celebrated the grand opening of its M Beta, an innovation lab that will function as a live "beta" hotel within the newly renovated Charlotte Marriott City Center.

From the wine store and new fitness studios to interactive digital technologies in the lobby and keyless entry, guests are encouraged to test and give their feedback, or "likes," by pushing a button. The votes are tallied in real time on a large screen in the lobby. At this writing, the hotel's Coco and the Director, an uber coffee-house-cum-gift-shop and communal lounge area, respectively, were ahead of the pack with more than 3,000 likes.

M Beta is Marriott's first big innovative move since its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide became official on Sept. 23. The company is making it clear that its namesake brand will remain at the forefront of hotel innovation in an increasingly crowded hospitality field, where brands constantly jostle for market share. Marriott will do this by transforming guest rooms and public spaces, while encouraging guests to experiment and embrace a bit of locality, embodied here with a pop-up bourbon speakeasy.

In a series of roundtable discussions attended by M&C, Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott, and the company's top management answered questions on the new innovation lab, how it would be used to formulate the new design details for other Marriotts, and why the company is renewing its focus on Marriott Hotels.

"Customers demand authenticity, and one of the hallmarks of the Marriott brand is of 'genuine' hospitality,'" said Sorensen, "So, we want to always pull through that, even as the physical product continues to evolve. After all, this is our namesake brand, and it's also the name of our company founder."

According to Stephanie Linnartz, Marriott International's executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer, redefining the concept of Marriott Hotels was a multiyear process of collecting customer feedback and turning the suggestions into a design vision that was also operational, made sense to owners and still stayed true to the brand.

"I want our guests, both loyal customers and new ones, to feel Marriott Hotels is fresh, relevant and meeting their needs," said Linnartz. "The consistency of Marriott as a brand will be around the execution of the things we roll out. But, the experience guests have will be local and different at every hotel, because each hotel will be bringing in its own local experiences."