Marriott has become an industry pioneer in emerging blockchain-based technologies like NFTs and virtual reality. Here’s what they learned.
At the end of 2021, as the grip of the pandemic began to loosen, Marriott International needed a spark – something that would reignite the passion for travel among an audience that for much of the previous two years had lived in confinement.
He found such a spark in web3. The metaverse – an interactive three-dimensional virtual ecosystem containing a vast and growing number of specific experiences – is just one manifestation of the web3, which, as its name suggests, is a term used to describe what is envisioned as the next evolutionary stage of the Internet.
Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs – essentially non-repeatable stamps to verify ownership of a particular asset – are another manifestation of web3. They were also Marriott’s gateway into the world of blockchain-based technologies. In December 2021, the brand launched its first branded NFT drop – becoming the first hotel brand to create its own NFTs, according to the company. Unveiled at Art Basel in Miami Beach, the drop included three tokens, each of which was designed by a separate artist. NFT’s artwork was inspired by their recently launched “Power of Travel” campaign. The NFTs have been awarded to three people and come with a significant number of loyalty points, which can be redeemed for travel experiences such as hotel stays, car rentals and flights.
In addition to inspiring these three winners to start traveling again, “NFTs have definitely been a powerful marketing tool,” says Nicolette Harper, vice president of global marketing and media at Marriott International. “During the pandemic, we had to start from scratch. We needed to identify where our current and potential future customers spend their time: what were they doing? How did they connect? How did they want to socialize? And how does a brand like Marriott fit into all of this? Through all of this data from the research, we really found that the metaverse… was really where they spent their time, whether it was playing games, watching games, going to concerts… This whole social component what they were missing during the pandemic, they were getting their fix, if you will, in a very different way, through metaverse experiences. And so we knew we had to be there.
Marriott AR and VR Experiences
In July, the brand began experimenting with augmented reality (AR) – a technology that uses devices like smartphones or tablets to overlay virtual reality (VR) elements onto the physical world. The AR experience was launched for Moxy Hotels – a Marriott-owned brand that markets itself as “stylish and playful” and aimed at young travelers – in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) market and aimed to “break the rules in an unconventional way”. hotel stay,” says Harper.
The experience allows, for example, guests to create and dress virtual avatars; it was also launched in conjunction with a large regional gaming competition. “That was really the beauty of combining real-life experiences, AR avatars, the social component – which you need to really classify as a metaverse – as well as eSports, which I don’t think a lot of hotels have entered.
Marriott has also dabbled in virtual reality. It recently built a digital twin of one of its hybrid hotel and conference sites in Madrid; visitors to the virtual space can explore and “really get a sense of the space,” says Harper. “I actually had business meetings in the metaverse at this hotel… It was so incredibly cool how realistic everything was. We could rearrange conference room configurations and create totally different experiences. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve done metaverse-wise this summer.
“Amplify vs. Replace”
The core business model of the hospitality industry obviously requires in-person experience; It can be fun to explore a virtual hotel as an avatar, but ultimately hotels need guests to actually visit their IRL locations and stay in actual rooms.
An informative aspect of Marriott’s Web3 businesses over the past few months has been the brand’s methods for using new technologies to complement and support its existing – and fundamentally unchanging – core business model. “While we think web3 is definitely where we want to be, and we certainly think it will bring many new and exciting virtual opportunities, it’s really about using this space to enhance our current offerings, and really amplify rather than replace in real-life travel,” says Harper. “You can’t fly in real life and defy gravity, but you can in the metaverse. So you can have that layer of additional experience to enhance the things that truly make us the best in the industry… We want to inspire you in new ways and connect you in new ways, but ultimately we’d like you to stop by and stay with us in real life.
Although she declined to provide specific details, Harper said Marriott “will be looking at other AR and VR experiences” and also plans to expand its NFT strategy. “Definitely more to come,” she says.
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