by Loren G. Edelstein | January 01, 2016

Many planners are worried about the hotel industry's mega-merger. Among concerns are higher rates, lower service levels, and the messy business of merging loyalty programs. Others, meanwhile, see the deal in a positive light and are looking forward to the changes ahead. Following are verbatim comments from respondents to M&C's related survey. [See survey findings here.] 

Please share your thoughts regarding the Marriott/Starwood merger.

• It's my hope that the Marriott brand doesn't suffer by taking on so much...it seems to be a HUGE undertaking, and some Starwood brands are in need of a major overhaul.

• I have seen how business mergers always tend to not favor the customer (i.e.: American Airlines). I have come to expect this.

• I don't like the idea of a super large hotel chain, which could result in the lack of competitive pricing.

• I would hope that the stubbornness of Marriott does not remove the flexibility of the Starwood brand.

• YES

• Definitely. We have particular Starwood properties - mainly Westins - that we use on a regular basis, and I'm not certain how they will fit into the Marriott properties package, i.e., JW vs. Marriott, etc. Some of these properties do not seem to fit either of these brands. We use a great multitude of Marriott-branded hotels throughout the year and know that the product line within a category can vary a great deal. Starwood properties have been more consistent within the Westin brand. Will be interesting to see how plays out.

• My biggest concern is the unknown.

• Higher prices

• Organizational indifference due to size

• Yes, I am afraid there will no longer be any room for negotiation or personalization for my meetings. It will become so large it will need to become standardized to be able to be managed.

• We would need to see the Starwood brands maintain their identity and group-marketing programs. If Marriott sends the message that the group business is not important by reducing and cutting back on marketing and support, that would be a problem for meeting planners. Starwood has been a strong supporter of the group business through their group-marketing programs.

• I do hope Starwood hotels stay super nice as they have been.

• Worried about hotel costs jumping dramatically with less competition, similar to airline issues

• My only concern would be whether or not I would lose any benefits or if they make a significant change in what the points could be used for.

• I am curious to know if Starwood would apply any planner points to the member program for past events held, whether large or small meetings.

• I believe the Marriott and Starwood brands are of equal quality and feel this only strengthens their position. Should Starwood have gone with a lesser brand, I feel it would have actually hurt their image more than improve the lesser. Please don't get a big head, however, as there is always the Hilton brand out there!

• Yes, branding and lack of competition, I am always concerned unpopular locations among the populace will eliminate easy access locations.

• Yes! It's been difficult working with Marriott over the past five or so years due to the changes they've made with their sales teams. I fear it will only get worse.

• That it will greatly impact our ability to negotiate good pricing. Is this nearly a monopoly?

• A lot less competition

• The company will just be too damn big. Already, the Marriott "Regional Sales Offices" are problematic. A person in Boston can't know the hotels in New Jersey, and the appointed DSE can only answer so many questions during a site visit. The combining of two already large organizations may not benefit planners.

• Losing my points in the transition

• Higher hotel rates

• Well, the airlines seem to have taken the worst from each other when they merged, especially United and Continental. I'm concerned that could happen with the two hotel chains - that one or both will lower standards rather than raise them.

• I hope we can keep our status and all the points.

• In my opinion, it will be a good thing. I just hope they don't change the Starwood hotels' décor and atmosphere. I love the Westin and the W hotels. I just don't get a chance to stay at them much. From a planner standpoint, I've only worked with Starwood a couple of times and it was a good experience. I expect that upon merging with Marriott the experience will be as good or better. I also don't see that there's much difference in costs and don't expect that to change significantly.

• If they want to keep us happy, keep the Starwood program; it's so much better.

• I trust Marriott and Starwood to take care of their loyal customers.

• Less competition

• I think it is funny that people who have these ridiculous perks from Starwood are upset. The people (general population) are the ones who need price breaks and "freebies," not these elite travelers.

• Will my status be diminished with so many on the program now, as happened with airline mergers?

• Like the airlines, the more competition is compressed, the tougher it is for buyers. On a personal level, I am not concerned at all. On a professional level, this is something that needs to be watched carefully.

• Higher prices!

• Will points ultimately be able to be used in more places? Will more points per stay be needed as the two brands combine?

• Too big is always a concern to me.

• I hate monopolies!

• My concerns are that it will be harder to negotiate rates, etc.

• Afraid Marriott will devalue Starwood.

• Hopefully the new program will not increase requirements to use awards.

• I'm a little worried about the level of competition in some markets where Marriott will have the vast majority of hotel rooms in the market.

• It will be more of a challenge for the hotels to maintain their brand identities and cultures if there are 30 brands under the Marriott umbrella. And, in some cases, those brand identities provide useful guidance for potential attendees.

• Homogenization of brands to the point of not being able to distinguish among hotels

• What form of parity will there be for Starwood points versus Marriott points?

• Many: job loss at GSO level. Culture differences. Owners vs. management vs. company. Too many brands to keep track of

• Don't think it will effect events that much but will impact corporate hotels programs and third-party sourcing options

• Hopefully Marriott will up their customer service. It's been great working with my Starwood contacts.

 

How do you feel about the intended combination of Marriott's and Starwood's loyalty programs?

 

• It doesn't matter to me one way or the other. I have points with both but am more a Marriott person than I am a Starwood person.

• I think this will end up being a benefit to the hotelier in some way. I fear that they will greatly devalue the program.

• Love it

• Having more options is always great!

• I like Starwood's loyalty program better than the Marriott because I got "more bang for my buck." I think Marriott's loyalty program asks for too many points.

• As an independent travel agent/meeting planner, I am shut out of using Marriott's loyalty program. I am sorry to hear that Starwood will be merged, as I may lose the able to use that program as well.

• Is a non-issue either way as we belong to both.

• Seriously? People are upset? Get over it. You high rollers don't even need the perks - the common person with a family needs perks. And, no, I'm not a socialist.

• If all points get merged and program rules don't change, then it will be beneficial.

• I hope they "truly" combine the best of both programs.

• I think it offers more opportunities to those of us who have more points from either Starwood or Marriott.

• It will be like the airlines - too many people with "elite" status, so it becomes nothing.

• If Marriott continues its dedication to its program and carries same forward, it can only be a good, probably better operation.

• They are taking one of the best loyalty programs (Starwood) and merging with a mediocre one (Marriott). Somehow I do not think Starwood will win in this battle.

• It all depends how it is handled and whether Marriott maintains the SPG Loyalty program benefits, either as a standalone or else rolls the benefits into the Marriott Rewards program on a similar basis.

• Doesn't really effect me, but my brother, who was almost a Starwood Platinum member, is a little bummed about combining the loyalty programs.

• They are my two largest programs, and a combined program would bring a larger combined benefit...hopefully!

• I think it's good for members of those loyalty programs. It will give them more hotel options for earning points.

• I feel that I can now receive the planner points using Starwood properties, whereas that has not been the case in past years. Marriott has been great in rewarding planners for continued business.

• Overall, I believe this will be a good thing. However, it also depends on how they treat existing points in either program during the merge. I may get very bitter toward them if they don't allow the transfer of points from one to the other. That's on the personal side. For the business side, as a meeting planner, I think this helps create a more robust property selection and application for our conference attendees.

• I can't use what we earn so I have no opinion.

• I am a member of both, and the Starwood program is on a higher elite level and more valuable when you want to select a hotel and rooms. Marriott's program is good but not as valued as Starwood points.

• As long as the combined numbers remain in use, I am favorably inclined to use them more if dates and location are convenient.

• We hope it gives we consumers more hotel options with the benefits of the Marriott Reward Program.

• It will open the door for other brands and new concepts to excel.

• It will be as clean as the mess with the combining of the United and Continental everything.

• Fearful my Starwood points will be lost

• I prefer both brands.

• I am unsure how the points will combine.

• Ease of use is the key issue here.

• I like both hotel chains, but it just doesn't seem possible they can all operate effectively under one umbrella, and that the loyalty programs will be fairly handled.

• I have elite status in both programs, but the way in which members earn status is very different for each one. I hope that members get the benefit of the doubt, rather than having points sacrificed because of the merger.

• Not sure if we'll get the better parts of either program.

• I'm a member of both programs but have only used Starwood a couple of times. If they combine the few points I have with Starwood with Marriott, I would be happy. I like Starwood hotels - there just aren't many in the areas I travel and very few options for the cities where we hold events as well. From a planner standpoint, I've only worked with Starwood hotels a couple of times.

• The more, the merrier!

• I am actually not familiar with Starwood, but combining is always good as it allows you to accumulate more points and it makes more opportunities available because of added locations.

• I am taking the wait-and-see approach; Starwood was always better.

• I think most loyalty plans are a joke when you can get better rates by using all the various apps.

• I am a fan of Marriott more than a fan of Starwood and support whatever decision they feel works for their business.

• There are too many large corporate mergers, and they will eventually control the pricing and have no competition.

• I hope it works out well for the consumer as well as the business.

• It should benefit everyone involved in either program.

• Marriott's goal has been to reduce all costs and make points less and less meaningful or beneficial. Starwood's was the better program. Marriott has no loyalty to their "loyalty program" members.

• I rarely stayed at Starwood hotels and stay frequently at Marriott brands, so I have little concern.

• I think it's a good merger.

• I'm not familiar with the Starwood program, but I hear it's much better than the Marriott program. If the incentives are better than they are now, I'm all for it!

• Marriott requires too many points to claim rewards. Also, the lower-end hotels should have lower reward points to redeem.

• IT problems!

• I am expecting this will be a positive for members, taking the best of both programs and not deleting any benefits.

• The loyalty program now becomes more flexible and benefits the member.

• Loyalty points have no value - perks like faster Internet and club-level upgrades are better.

• Improve the joint program by taking the best from each.

• Since the programs have different benefits and classes of memberships, as well as point values, it will be a challenge to integrate them. The hotels can lose a lot of goodwill with their core loyal customers if they do it wrong.

• Marriott's program does not allow for a company to hold the points whereas Starwood does. Starwood's program is far superior.

• How they are combined will make a huge difference to me as a consumer.

• I think it is a good idea and will benefit me somewhat.

• Not sure I have enough Marriott points to impact me. But great for frequent Marriott customers.

• I am concerned as I do not know whether the merger will cause me to lose my rewards from Starwood. I'm not at all indifferent, I am not pleased, I am not displeased. I am concerned.

• It had to happen. How could they be one company and not do so? I haven 't seen a great difference in treatment; others say Starwood is better. Giving up perks is so hard for some! But with the airlines we have had to give up everything since few people I know travel on full-price tickets. Low fares/lots of miles? They don't care.

• I am both a Platinum Marriott and SPG Pro; it seems like a good combo.

• Pleased that it will open a new range of hotels to gain points and use points