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How design thinking drives Marriott's digital strategy

Clint Boulton | April 11, 2017
The world’s largest hotelier refreshed its mobile application to follow guests through their stay.

If the approach sounds like how you would want a hotel app to service you that's by design. Design thinking, or human-centered design, places the user at the heart of product development and meshes it with the potentials of the technology to achieve the desired business outcome. Corbin says Marriott has embraced design thinking as a way to make its mobile app more of a "warm embrace" for guests.

Ideally, such service-oriented changes will resonate for a guest base that has already proven willing to book Marriott stays through smartphones. In 2016, $1.7 billion of Marriott's $13.4 billion ingross online bookings came through the mobile app, up 70 percent from $1 billion in 2015. And while Marriott mobile app users have historically used the app purely to book travel, Corbin says that two-thirds of the application usage stems from services unrelated to bookings. For example, guests have logged more than 20,000,000 mobile check-in and check-out requests through the mobile app to date.  

"It used to be about the booking but the lines crossed in 2015 and people started to use the app for more than [the] commerce component," Corbin says. "Based on research on what customers want, we need to make sure we're building out features and services to support them in each of those moments."


‘Alexa, are you spying on me?’

Eventually, those mobile "moments" could extend beyond the app on your phones to your voice, which thanks to the burgeoning success of's Alexa has become a focal point of consumer-oriented companies. Corbin says Marriott, which allocates a small group of employees who focus on emerging technologies, is exploring how voice recognition might work in the context of the guest stay experience.

Questions Corbin is considering: What data sources would such a solution draw from? When a guest checks out, does it clear the record after they are gone? And the big consumer privacy dilemma: How do guests feel about something listening in on them when they're in the room?

Moreover, issuing service requests from a global hotel chain isn't like using ordering a pizza. Take room service, for example. Ordering a burger sounds straightforward until you get into the permutations, including questions such as these: How do you want that cooked? Cheese or no cheese? What kind of bun? Hold the onion.

Marriott would have to train the voice assistant to recognize the various vocal patterns and idiosyncrasies associated with human speech. The complexity grows exponentially when you consider the full complement of booking services Marriott offers. "There are a lot of factors that come into play and you've got to figure all that out before you go out at scale," Corbin says. "It's early days but there is tremendous promise."


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