Normally, I’m not a big traveler, but this year has been an amazingly busy year for me. If you are like me you have many a pet peeve, or idea on how to make your next trip a better one. The folks at Marriott Hotels, the flagship brand of Marriott International invited a group of journalists down to their Corporate Headquarters to take a gander at some of the new ideas coming in through their successful Travel Brilliantly campaign.
Innovation isn’t a word that I normally associate with Marriott or any hotel that caters to corporate executives; however, hotel chains are starting to recognize that something has to change to keep their customers happy and potentially expand a shrinking base of people who travel regularly whether for business or god forbid enjoyment.
During our visit, I had a chance to take a gander at some of the things that they are thinking about. All the magic happens in their “secret” innovation lab called The Underground, where executives (in my world they sit around with evil laughs while sipping lattes and mochas) discuss all their grand ideas for the future.
Using Liquid Nitrogen to make food is becoming a big thing. In Vegas I had a chance to try Nitrogen fused “flash frozen” popcorn and it is a very surreal thing. You pop it into your mouth and smoke comes out your nose. Pretty neat. Now people are doing it with other food items including ice cream.
A local DC firm called Nicecream Factory (The N is for Nitrogen) was on hand to demo their homemade Ice Cream making process. They use locally sourced ingredients and liquid nitrogen in their creations. There was also another small DC company there called sweetgreen that specializes in organically “pressed” juice. Both companies have home delivery options. Marriott wants to introduce new food concepts in their hotel restaurants and these are a couple of ideas that they are exploring.
We walked around The Underground and had a chance to view some of their new hotel room concepts including new bathroom designs, sample some of their new beds and get a preview of some design mockups for new lobby ideas. It seems like using new technology like tablets in lobbies and for mobile check-in, is a big thing that they are exploring. We also talked about the idea of a hotel room that knows you, so when you check in it could automatically adjust the lighting, bed, etc. and even play your favorite music for you when you walk in the door.
Christopher Baer – Director Insight, Strategy and Innovation at Marriott, walked us through the slideshow presentation of some of the top fifteen finalists for their contest and had us put our own suggestions on the wall of ideas. Of course my idea was basic – let me get into my room before 3pm, darnit! I’m an early morning flyer and it drives me nuts that I end up wasting my entire day waiting to check into a room. I also think hotel lobbies aren’t places anyone wants to be and that hotels should make them more welcoming to travelers and become part of their local community. Other more intriguing ideas from their Travel Brilliantly came from their First Prize Winner submissions.
With Work & Play top of mind, Richie Welton proposed a monthly happy hour event for business travelers themed by common topics (Giving Feedback, Identifying Talent, Using Social Media, etc.), where event-goers can interact with other guests at the hotel who work in different industries.
Tech-savvy Megan Steffen submitted a social media inspired innovation that allows guests to receive Marriott Reward points, hotel credits, and discounts for using a designated hashtag on their social media accounts. Rene Kolga wanted an app that allows for guests to make recommendations on the best places to eat, tourist attractions and activities in the area surrounding the hotel. To recreate the comforts of a home-cooked meal on the road, Suzanne Polito submitted the idea for an app allowing for guests’ rooms to be stocked with groceries that they would select from a pre-ordered list upon arrival.
Finally, Marie Cheney proposed the switch from traditional print newspapers to a daily digital news subscription; each guest would have the option of selecting from a variety of newspapers at check-in including The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and more, with automatic e-mail and text notifications for when their daily digital paper would arrive. The First Prize winners’ submissions were selected based on criteria including the extent to which their idea described in the submission would enable guests to “Travel Brilliantly;” the innovativeness of the submission; feasibility and strategy.
I still think my concept of letting me check in before 3pm has a lot of potential.