Marriott invests in startup to give guests local, personalized experiences

The company signed eight new and on-going renovation and construction projects, three of which were completed recently, totaling approximately $110 million.
Marriott Winston-Salem

Travelers can now sign up through hotels for experiences arranged by locals to have a personalized experience. The latest to join the trend are Marriott International, which recently took a stake in PlacePass, the tour- and activity-booking start-up. PlacePass provides a metasearch service for in-destination experiences, ranging from hiking trips and cruises to food tours and bundle passes for multiple events. As part of Marriott's investment in PlacePass, it will add more than 100,000 of these experiences across 800 destinations to the hotel chain's websites and apps.

Marriott is leading a Series A financing round for PlacePass, co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Emily Bernard told BostInno. Bernard declined to disclose the amount of the Series A, saying that the round is still open. She said some angel investors from the startup's seed round—the amount of which was also not disclosed—are returning for the Series A. While she did not name any of the investors' names, she said they are from the travel, hospitality and tech industries.

"Between Marriott and the other investors, the Series A will give us good runway to build out our vision of providing immersive, high-quality experiences to travelers worldwide," Bernard said.

"The addition of PlacePass activities and tours beginning later this year reflects Marriott's commitment to giving our guests a complete travel experience, whether they are in planning mode, staying in our hotels and even in-between stays when they're thinking about travel," said Stephanie Linnartz, Marriott's global chief commercial officer.

PlacePass experiences that will be added include a guided tour of the filming locations from TV show "Downton Abbey," a chance to wrestle with a retired sumo wrestler in Tokyo and a cooking workshop with an Italian chef at a Tuscan farmhouse.

The new moves by these established companies reflect the increasing draw of home-sharing sites like Airbnb, which promise travelers the chance to live like a local, Fiona O’Donnell, the director of travel and leisure research at Mintel, a market research firm, told the New York Times.

“Guests want to feel like they are experiencing something in the design or the local flavor,” she said. “They want it to be memorable and part of the local scene, not like they are tourists.”

Airbnb started its own Trips booking site, on which local “experts” sell experiences they put together.

The start-up Hello Scout offers concierge service and activities booking via its website and text message for independent boutique hotels. Hotel guests use it to text local experts to book events, or find restaurants or other hangouts. Travelers pay a fee for the bookings, and the service is free to the hotels.

Marriott sees its Moxy brand as a boutique hotel with the heart of a hostel, Vicki Poulos, the brand director, also told the New York Times. The hotels are typically in urban settings that are destinations for travelers seeking a new experience, Poulos said, different from a hotel in a suburb where travelers are not necessarily staying over to learn something new.

“We’re really making sure we infuse that local culture,” she said. “People are determined to get to know what the community has to offer.”

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