First Hilton, now Marriott.
In an attempt to steer more direct bookings, Marriott International beginning in April is introducing Marriott Rewards Member Rates, a new rate exclusively designed to reward loyalty members who book directly through Marriott's direct channels, including Marriott.com, Marriott's call centers and app.
While the program is ostensibly a maneuver to reward loyalty members even further, make no mistake: The program is an attempt to weaken the reach of online travel agencies, which have become a go-to and trusted source for consumer bookings.
"We’re rewarding our loyal members by providing a rate exclusively designed to show them how valuable they are to us," said Karin Timpone, global marketing officer, Marriott International.
It's also seeks to educate. "We also want to help dispel the myth that other travel websites offer better rates for our hotels. The simple fact is that you will find the lowest rates across our portfolio when you join Marriott Rewards and book direct," continued Timpone.
Marriott is the second large hotel company to come out with a program like this. In February, Hilton Worldwide expanded its Hilton HHonors rewards program to include discounted rates for direct bookings. The initiative was paired with its own marketing campaign, dubbed "Stop Clicking Around," which reaffirmed the positives of direct bookings.
"We're doing what we can to deliver the best value and the best experience to our consumer, and we think it's important that they know you can get the best value… and best experience by virtue of working with us," Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide, told HOTEL MANAGEMENT during the International Hotel Investment Forum held last week in Berlin.
"We're trying to correct what I believe has been… a misperception out there, particularly with less-frequent travelers, that to get the best value and the best experience they have to go outside our system. All we're trying to tell them is, 'No, you don't,' the best value and best experience is obtained by virtue of going through our system."
While Marriott's new program explicitly outlines perks for booking direct, it, too, of late has been trying to reach consumer through education about the benefits of booking direct with the brand. Marriott launched a digital campaign nearly a year ago titled "It Pays to Book Direct," which included a number of ads reinforcing the message.
As of August 2015, Marriott Rewards topped U.S. News & World Report's annual list of the top hotel loyalty programs, showing that getting the word out is swaying guest attitudes.
Other components of the loyalty program include the Best Rate Guarantee, wherein if guest finds a better rate within 24 hours of booking direct, Marriott matches and provides an additional 25-percent discount.
While loyalty programs still have a long way to go, finding ways to push consumers to book direct is a top priority for brands to curb reliance on OTAs.