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Marriott to grow outbound Chinese share with Alibaba JV

With China’s online travel market valued at almost US$87 billion and growing, Marriott International is about to get a big boost marketing its hotels to Chinese consumers through a new joint venture with Alibaba Group Holding announced on Monday. Alibaba's travel service platform, Fliggy (formerly Alitrip), will immediately manage Marriott’s storefront there, and in the future, Alibaba will manage Marriott’s websites and mobile apps in Chinese language.

The JV also will link the two company’s loyalty programs, create other cross-promotional opportunities and support Marriott hotels globally with content, programs and promotions customized for the Chinese traveler. Starting Tuesday, Alibaba users (500 million active monthly) will be able to sign-up to Marriott’s loyalty programs and book member rates through one of Marriott’s digital channels.

Marriott’s Global Chief Commercial Officer Stephanie Linnartz would not disclose to HOTELS the amount of Marriott's investment, adding it was “not a significantly large investment.” “It’s not so much about the money,” she added. “What is powerful about this is putting two platforms together.”

Linnartz added that the goal is to grab a disproportionate share of an incredibly big market increasingly traveling outside Asia Pacific. “The more we can get this share, the great for our owners,” she said.

Here are more details:

  • The joint venture will provide newly-integrated functionality to help with planning, booking, paying and managing a trip to all of the activities associated once at the destination like shopping, dining and sightseeing services (for example, WeChat access to Mandarin-speaking staff on property after a booking). Again, the timetable for roll out has not been completely defined, according Linnartz.

  • Marriott will offer access to special events through its loyalty programs. Eligible members from Alibaba’s loyalty program will benefit from personalized programs and Marriott’s SPG ambassador program.

  • Reservation costs for these direct bookings through the joint venture will be lower than third-party costs, according to Linnartz.

  • Smartphone payment system Alipay will be accepted at Marriott hotels in select global markets with further expansion expected around the world.

“We are proud to join forces with Marriott International – combining our large-scale consumer base, leading-edge technology and consumer insights with their unparalleled hospitality expertise,” said Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group, in a release. “Together, we are elevating and redefining the travel experience for Chinese consumers to be more seamless and personalized as they embark on adventures to discover the world.”

“By forming this partnership, we are pairing our hospitality expertise with Alibaba’s digital travel plaform, retail expertise and digital payment platform, Alipay, and driving membership to our loyalty programs,” added Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson.

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