A Hotel That Clicks With Guests

During the go-go 1990s hotel operators went on a building binge, adding 600,000 U.S. rooms in the last half of the decade--the equivalent of Las Vegas five times over. Now the industry is suffering from a case of indigestion, with flat occupancy rates hovering around 64%. Not Marriott International Inc.: It's at 81% and rising.

Credit the Web. Marriott's Internet-linked reservations system finds rooms in 2,200 hotels and prices them based on the latest market data. And Marriott.com makes it easy to find a hotel that matches travelers' interests. Online reservations have doubled to 2% of the total--with a goal of 10% by 2005.

This month, the Bethesda (Md.) hotel operator will use all that Web cunning to become a super marketer. It's readying a Net-based system that will track customers' likes and dislikes, rewarding them for loyalty and targeting them with promotions tailored just to them. Tell Marriott you like Chicago, and you'll get e-mail when Chicago Marriotts run specials. Marriott.com is adding areas for skiers, golf buffs, and spa aficionados. Guests can use the golf area to find a hotel near a course, or one with links on-site. "It lets the company showcase its lodging in a highly visual, powerful way," says John W. Marriott III, executive vice-president for sales and marketing.

Most of all, Marriott is asking customers for more information so hotels can give better service. The company hopes to refine the data so it can cater to guests' idiosyncrasies, down to knowing what type of juice to put in the minibar. The chain thinks e-mail marketing built on data collected from willing customers will add $10 million to $20 million a year in revenue.

Best of all, the Web helps Marriott smooth the cycles that often paralyze the hotel business. Now that's a bet bold enough for Vegas.