by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | November 01, 2016
When Marriott Hotels in late 2013 acquired the Charlotte (N.C.) Marriott City Center, which it previously had only managed, the company planned a renovation. That project turned into an innovative transformation that was finally revealed last month with the official unveiling of M Beta, a living "laboratory" of hotel design within the revamped 448-room property.

At M Beta, guests are encouraged to test and give their feedback, or "likes," by pushing Beta Buttons located throughout the property, weighing in on features such as the on-site wine store, fitness studios, keyless entry to rooms and more. Votes are tallied in real time on a large lobby screen. At the grand opening, both the hotel's coffee house/gift shop and the communal lounge area were leading the vote with more than 3,000 likes.

M Beta is the first big innovative move by Marriott Hotels, the flagship brand of Marriott International, since its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide became official on Sept. 23 (see related story on page 14). The company is making it clear that the brand will remain at the forefront of hotel innovation in an increasingly crowded hospitality field. 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 held during the unveiling, Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott, and the company's top management answered questions on the new innovation lab, how it will be used to formulate the new design details for other Marriott properties 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."

"The consistency of Marriott as a brand will be around the execution of the things we roll out," added Stephanie Linnartz, the chain's executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer. "But the experience guests have will be different at every hotel, because each hotel will be bringing in its own local experiences."