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HI Connect® Spotlight - Marriott International & The M Club Lounge

Today we speak with the good folks at Marriott about their new M Club Lounge Concept and the version they’re bringing to HI Connect® 2015.

Friday, March 06, 2015
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HI Connect®®
HI Connect®
Experience a Design Revolution

We’re getting ready for our BIG HI Connect®? event coming this March 25-27, 2015 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, TN. Act Now and register to be a part of this amazing event now in its fourth year!

We have dozens of built out fully constructed out vignettes created by leading hospitality designers, architects and purchasing professional. And those attending HI Connect®? will get to step into their master creations, get a tour and see products in the context in which they belong; in a real hotel environment!

HI Connect® offers attendees an incredible opportunity to view, first hand, original concepts designed by industry designers, architects and purchasing companies in collaboration with suppliers shown in context within a real environment. You’ll see guest rooms, bathrooms, and public spaces such as Bar/Lounge, Spa/Fitness to name a few. This is a truly the most collaborative effort ever at any hospitality event.

As part of our countdown to HI Connect® 2015 we’re interviewing the people that are bringing their creative vision to life. Read the story below, or listen to their story.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect®? experience March 25-27, 2015, visit our dedicated website to learn more. Register now for this unique event setting a new standard for hospitality tradeshows. Or call 631-424-7755 x150 for an immediate response.

For today’s interview, Editor-In-Chief Glenn Haussman speaks with:

  • Paul Cahill, SVP of Global Brands, Marriott Hotels, and JW Marriott
  • Laurie Woliung, Director of Interior Design, North and South America, full-service brands.
  • Morriah Mryszuk, Senior Designer with Marriott;
  • Kim Riffle, Director, Purchasing, FF&E Full Service Renovations & New Builds
  • Clif Clark, General Manager, San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront

They speak about the M Club Lounge and what you can expect to see during the three days of HI Connect®?.

Glenn Haussman: Wow, do I have a great group of superstars here with me today. I'm gonna try to let you know who they all are in a very quick and reasonable way so you guys actually have time to listen to this interview and we don't just talk about titles. Number one, I have Mr. Paul Cahill. He's the SVP of Global Brands, Marriott Hotels, and JW Marriott as well. How are you, sir?

Paul Cahill: I'm excellent. Thank you.

Glenn Haussman: Excellent. Thank you so much for being with me here today, especially Paul has never spoken to me before, so I know you were very suspicious at first. I'm gonna try to allay your fears here today. Then, of course, we have Morriah Mryszuk, senior designer with Marriott; Laurie Woliung , she is director of interior design, North and South America, full-service brands. And, of course, Kim Riffle from procurement, who's the director of procurement, working with full-service hotels. And then on a different line, you guys might hear a little difference in sound quality, but that's okay. We love him anyway, Mr. Clif Clark, general manager, San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, hailing from the west.

How's everybody doing? Good?

Group: Great.

Glenn Haussman: So I'm really excited because we're gonna be talking about the M Club Lounge today, and that's a great new concept that you guys have been rolling out, and I got Clif here on the phone 'cause they opened up the first one in San Francisco. But, Paul, I wanna start with you because what is it all about? What can people expect and why are you doing this M Lounge concept, anyway?

Paul Cahill: Welcome to our headquarter building here. I'm sorry it's 10 degrees outside, but –

Glenn Haussman: I'm blaming you personally, Paul.

Paul Cahill: Yes, exactly. And so as you set it up, you usually do interviews with superstars. This is just a bunch of regular people sitting here in Washington, DC. So let's be clear, all right?

Glenn Haussman: All right. Thank you.

Paul Cahill: Our superstars are out on the west coast, like Clif, and it's is probably not ten degrees there.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah, doing the yeoman's job in 60-something-degree temperature.

Paul Cahill: Yeah, exactly. But, anyway, welcome.

Glenn Haussman: Thank you.

Paul Cahill: We're really excited about the concept of what we call M Club Lounge, which is a place in a hotel that celebrates our best, most loyal customers in our hotel, and it also is a place that we use to give our guests an opportunity to buy up into a premium service. I'll let Clif talk about the dynamics of the space, but if I step back and I think about, "Okay, so this is one space we're talking about," really what we're doing here as a brand as we're on a journey to kinda reimagine what the full-service premium hotel experience should look like.

Glenn Haussman: I think that makes a lot of sense, especially considering I think that you're seeing select-service hotels really become quasi full-service hotels, and that space between the designations have become a little muddied, and I think it's a smart idea of add that little extra zing and help you get that kind of premium pricing that will more differentiate you guys.

So why specifically this particular type of concept?

Paul Cahill: Well, when we started looking at exactly what we were just talking about, the lines between tiers have been blurred. There's numerous reasons for that, and we're not gonna get into that today. But when we went back and took a deep look at our target customer, because we can't be for everybody, and certainly we are for a premium business traveler in this brand.

When we looked at really what makes them up, what's driving them, what they want out of a hotel, how they want to feel in a hotel, this idea of status and recognition for the jobs that they've done, the level they have achieved was really critical. And so when you think about one of the biggest differentiators between let's say limited service-product and full service, is this idea of a club lounge.

And so that's what led us down this road to say, "Okay, if we're really dealing with somebody who is out to outperform the next person when they're on business trip, but they also want to be recognized as discerning and successful and recognized for being loyal, how would we do that?" And the M Club Lounge actually is one of those levers that we believe that we should be leaning in on to do that for these customers.

Glenn Haussman: And I think it makes sense from that point of view that you need to not only differentiate yourself, while at the same time make that guest feel special. As you guys who listen to the regularly know, we're in this experience economy. It's not about things anymore. It's about having those moments and that sense of personalization and feeling special. And I that's where these guys are going to.

So let me ask Clif then, Clif, tell us a little bit about how this has come to life in your hotel and what's it's doing in terms of capturing that guest's excitement and imagination and making them come back.

Clif Clark: We opened the M Club last March, March 16, and the big move was we closed our concierge lounge on the 11th floor, top floor of the hotel, and we opened the M Club, so the word "lounge" and, "club," kinda says it all.

It's very highly noticeable from our great room/lobby space, from the bar that's a very active bar. And so it's obvious exclusivity, like Paul was saying, is we're recognizing our best customers. We host in the mornings and in the afternoons, and you have your name on the list and you have access or you don't. So it's been a total home run for our guests because now they have this really stylish sleek space, a lot more space; its twice the size our old lounge. But there's really thoughtful technology built into the space so people can be very productive. We have great food and beverage offerings in there, including a 24/7 grab-n-go area where people can get Starbucks latte, mineral water, snacks, 24 hours a day.

Glenn Haussman: I love what you said with the word "access," 'cause that really plays into all the things that we're talking about. When you get access to something, you feel special. It differentiates you from the pack. And even yesterday when I checked into the Marriott Hotel I stayed in, I got this great scratch-off card, right? And I won free parking, so, yeah me. But it's great 'cause it made me feel special and part of something.

So, Paul, let me take it back to you. How does M Lounge concept then differ than all the stuff that you're seeing in these more active moneymaking lobbies?

Paul Cahill: Well, first of all, a scratcher? [Laughs]

Glenn Haussman: Oh, yeah.

Paul Cahill: I'm not sure I had any part of that strategy. But, anyway, free parking. That was good.

So as Clif said, talking about access into this lounge and one of the things that we know clearly – so I'll give you some stats. Over the last ten years, we have doubled the number of elite members in our program. Okay? So when you think about the space, just given the space, if we didn't increase the space in these hotels, what's gonna happen in that space? And so the experience as you mentioned, started to go downhill.

What I would also say to you is what's important outside of the status is this idea of choice. People will pay a premium for more choice, whether they use it or they don't. And so the M Club Lounge is another premium choice. So what we see as Clif said, you could go in there a grab a cup of coffee and be out. You could go in there and have the host in that space help you make reservations, give you directions, give you the lay of the land if they're on leisure, or help you make copies, whatever. Again, they're using the space differently.

You asked the question of, "How is this related to other premium spaces that are driving revenue?" In fact, we're seeing big revenue gains in this M Club Lounge, but outside of it our great rooms are designed for kind of collaborating and empowering and connecting all of the guests in the hotel. So while we're talking about the M Club Lounge, which is the premier space. It's not the vast majority of people staying in the hotel. That's what makes it premium and having access to the club. The great room lobbies and our great bars and the great food and beverage that we have in those spaces is really on a bigger scale, allowing people to come down, connect, be more social, which is the way people are living their lives today.

Glenn Haussman: Right. I agree. So there's gotta be a different way of approaching the design of how you create these spaces. When you're talking about that overall lobby space, it's a different kind of a concept than creating something that's exclusive. I ask this to you, Laurie and Mariah. What are you thinking? Laurie?

Laurie Wolling: Okay. I think what I'd like to emphasize is that our M Club Lounge that we'll be featuring at HI Connect® this year and really happy – to be back, by the way, Glenn. We are once again emphasizing the new Marriott Modern, which is the new Marriott Hotels design strategy that was introduced now some two years ago. Last year, our guest room, as you know, won best guest room. People's Choice. Wanna just slip that in.

Glenn Haussman: That's a really, really killer space. And for those of you guys who missed it, check out HIConnectEvents.com and go to the 2014. Check out those pictures. You'll be wanting to see what they do this year for sure.

Laurie Wolling: Absolutely. And we're still going to maintain that Marriott Modern, and we're going to speak to the brand pillars which is our design in this particular space. Again, it's very dynamic, very polished, very thoughtful. But we do want to emphasize that Marriott Modern, is much more architectural by definition, not defined by the F&E or the patterned carpet. Where we see pattern now is in textural surfaces, in architectural surfaces, and that's where we get all of the dimensional layering of the space.

And I will tell you that this endeavor, and we won't give away too much, has taken a village. And we have some 50 partnered vendors who are working with us on this space. I'm gonna turn it over to Morriah to talk about the design and the design team. She's headed this up yet again this year, and has done an amazing job, especially in giving the space a relaxed formality, place for extreme human comfort with lots of exciting elements that you'll see when visit our space on March 25th to 27th this year.

Glenn Haussman: I love what you said, "Relaxed formality." Means you can be comfortable, but not too comfortable at the same time. But chill out and have a space, but I'm not gonna be hanging out there in my bathrobe, which is gonna be a benefit for all of you guys out there. That's for sure. Mariah?

Morriah Mryszuk: Yes. Like Laurie said, it has taken a village, and we have around 50 partnered vendors which is really fantastic. Everyone stepped up to the plate and brought their best face forward, lots of creativity from all parts. So we have been really fortunate and this year vignette is four times the size of last year. So we have been able to capture what would be a full-size M Club. So we have all of the Marriott Modern initiatives within the space, dynamic entry, focal seating, great grab-n-go, elevated buffet experience, lots of technology, and some great focal areas.

Glenn Haussman: That seems like a lot to put in. And I'm gonna wanna ask you, Kim, in a minute, about how you do all the purchasing for all of this. But how do you make sure that everything flows in the right way? And then I maybe could as Clif's opinion on how it has actually worked out. So how do you create the right flow and visual appeal for a space that's comfortable, kinda private, but also serves all of these multi uses?

Morriah Mryszuk: Well, we provide different areas for different functions, really, so we have those more lounge-type seating groups accompanied with more formal dining, multi-tier communal tables, and then breakout meeting spaces. So it'll capture a lot of different functions. If you're there for a meeting, you'll have that opportunity. If you're there to lounge with some friends and have a couple cocktails, you have that as well. So it offers a lot of flexibility for the guest.

Glenn Haussman: So, Clif, in practicality in the real world, how does all of this come to life and having those different zones and areas where people could be productive or not productive should they choose.

Clif Clark: Well, it's the design just kind of leads the guest through the experience. Immediately walking in through the entrance to the left, you're going to have your grab-n-go 24/7 setup, so people that are in a hurry can just go in, grab a cup of coffee, and go.

Then there is a section of seating that has all of this technology built in. We have batteries that people charge their phones with. We have easy USBs and plugs for people to be productive with their laptops in quieter space. We have six TVs around the space, so people if there's a big sporting event that becomes pretty heated throughout. The back part of the M Club is where the dining takes place for the most part in the morning and in the evenings during cocktail hour. And it's just there's a quiet space kind of in the middle where we have our iPad library where through PressReader, you can look up your favorite newspaper, 3000 different opportunities to read the different newspapers from around the world. So it's been really, really well received.

And I might mention that about 70 percent of all the seats in that space have a view out of this window overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and, by the way, it's not ten degrees here. It's gonna be 70 today. So come out to the M Club Lounge. You might get away from some of the chill and enjoy yourself.

Glenn Haussman: That's really big news. There's still newspapers around in the world?

Clif Clark: Digital newspapers. It's an app that we have available to the guests called PressReader. And it's 3000 publications, including 25 newspapers from around the world with a two-week archive.

Glenn Haussman: That's pretty awesome. Now, Kim, this seems like a herculean challenge for somebody like you. You've gotta pull this all together, bring Paul and his team's concepts and their designs and you've gotta actually bring it into the real world. Fifty partner suppliers just for this event alone. How do you do it all?

Kim Riffle: Well, this is a very small scale for us doing HI Connect® because on a project basis, you can have hundreds of suppliers that you're pulling in at one time. And it's all about working directly with our design team and it's great that they're located across the hall from us because it makes it so convenient.

But once they issue the specifications to us, it's all about the timing of working with our suppliers, making sure that we're getting shop drawings and finish samples approved in a timely basis. We always looking at the lead times. We know the delivery schedule. So the same for HI Connect®. We know what is needed and we just kind of pull it together and do it.

Glenn Haussman: It seems like an amazing skill to me to be able to not only get them there, but get them there on time and at the right price, too.

Kim Riffle: Mm-hmm. We have a contracting division within our department and we absolutely have some of the greatest pricing out there in the market with our carpeting, lighting, everything. So we offer a lot of advantages to our owners and franchisees they're utilizing our services because we can out price pretty much anybody.

Glenn Haussman: Right, yeah. And you guys have been at this for a really long time, so if you have a property it would be natural to want to work with you guys in order to make it work.

Kim Riffle: Yeah. We are an optional service to our owners, so we do compete with other purchasing companies, and we have to be awarded the projects. But we try really hard and I think I have an awesome team of 20 people in full service and I think we do a wonderful job. And it's great just working and having the close relationship with interior design.

Glenn Haussman: I like that. It keeps you working hard 'cause you gotta win the business. You can't just get the business.

Kim Riffle: Absolutely. Yes, we do.

Glenn Haussman: Laurie.

Laurie Wolling: Well, I think it's good what Kim mentioned and I wanna piggyback on that is that we, too, are internal interior design and architectural team is a optional service. So we're like any other design team and we big just like other design firms, large design firms for projects as well. So we only do Marriott, and Marriott branded properties, though. So Hilton, too bad. We're not available for you.

But I did want to mention one more thing about our HI Connect® space and our M Club Lounge, and that is we should talk a little bit more about technology and how fast technology is going today in the market and certainly in hospitality. And I want all of your listeners to know that we are on the cutting edge of technology. We will have a lot of media opportunities in our M Club Lounge. We will have, of course, television which would be de rigueur an M Club Lounge.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah, that's your entry point.

Laurie Wolling: Right. We will have the opportunity for any one of our guests to plug in and utilize the conferencing area and the screen area for their own private conference if they so desire. We also will have media infinity televisions that will be show casing an art medium on the screens, which is really exciting, and looking forward to that.

And the other thing that I want to just speak about a little bit that we are going to be introducing at HI Connect® with regard to hospitality, is wireless electricity. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's pretty exciting and we're hoping that everybody can set their phones down on our communal tables and charge their phones and/or laptops without any cords attached.

Glenn Haussman: Obviously, wireless electricity, I understand what it is, but I don't understand what it is. How could something like that exist? That's pretty amazing stuff.

Laurie Wolling: Well, it is amazing, and we're partnering with a company called WiTricity, and I encourage you to come by and see what it's all about.

Glenn Haussman: Well, I'm glad that I'm already registered for the event, and I know you guys listening are going to do it as well. But, Paul, we're talking about technology. And, of course, you have to have technology. I think you guys are one of the first out there with the media hubs in the rooms, for example. So how do you know what is going to work in the future, and what is not, and what are the types of things that you go ahead and incorporate into your future brands?

Paul Cahill: Well, as it relates to technology, first of all, technology is changing the way we all live our lives, right? Anything outside of this industry in your lives, the cars we drive, even the clothes we wear now have technology built into 'em. But I would tell you that we are focused on enabling technology. We will never be a technology company, nor do we want to compete with those companies, and if you pay attention to what goes on at some of those big technology companies, every six months, there's a new device and there's a new this and a new that.

I think our goal is to enable our guests to use whatever technology they bring into our spaces, enable that, so that they can be the most productive, they can bring their content with them. There's a different time and place for us to probably have this conversation, but we are deep into how do we allow them to bring their content into our guest rooms. How do we do things like that around technology?

Glenn Haussman: And I think that's true. That could be a whole standalone podcast on its own about this new world of bring-your-own-device type of universe that we're living in now.

So what are some of the things that you're thinking about your Marriott? You are up there. Everybody looks to you. So tell me then how do you make sure that you guys stay sharp? Wow. 'Cause you gotta keep outdoing yourselves. You can't rest on your laurels.

Paul Cahill: Well, you're looking at three of the people in this room here, and that make those things come to life, right? So as some people say, I might be the promise maker, we come up with strategies based on consumer feedback, and studying behaviors and these folks here in the room make that happen. The other guy out there in that 70-degree weather, Clif, is the person outside that really takes care of our guests and make that happen.

So I would tell you, staying ahead of people is I think in our benefit or the way we do it at Marriott, the way we stay on top, is that we can out-execute everybody. We have the best people in the industry, regardless of the disciplines, and we have deep consumer knowledge that allows us just to say a step ahead. And mobile guest services. You name it; M Club Lounge is one of those things.

Glenn Haussman: Clif, this conversation is making me hungry now. I don’t know why talking about technology makes me hungry, but it brings me back to what you guys are doing in the M Lounge space at your property dealing with F&B. You mentioned the grab-n-go and coffee and food during the day, and at night. What kind of offerings do you have, and how does all work together?

Clif Clark: Well, starting with breakfast, we have a full breakfast buffet available for our guests. But it not like your typical buffet that just has a big chafing dish full of eggs. We do a lot of pre-portioned individual plates. We always have a featured plate of the day in addition to proteins, eggs, breakfast meats, oatmeal. We try to really always offer something for the health-conscious traveler, too, that wants to keep his routines that he has at home, whether it's eating right or working outreach, the same when he's staying at my hotel. So there's a lotta healthy options.

But then at nighttime, for example, I was in there last night. We had a reception for our gold and platinum guests, and I really loved the short rib mac and cheese. And it probably is not what you wanna eat if you're trying to stay on your healthy routine, but it was sure tasty.

Glenn Haussman: All right. Could you hold on while I book a flight to San Francisco real quick? All right. All that makes sense. I love what you're saying, though, specifically about the small plates. I think that rises the sophistication level 'cause nobody wants to see a big trough of food. Makes me feel like I'm at like – I don't wanna say the name of the brand that has buffets around the country. They don't deserve to be thrown under the bus. But I totally agree. It definitely elevates the experience and it makes you feel I would say a little bit more special and stuff, right? I can see a lotta nodding heads in this room, which is great.

All right. So we're running out of time here, so what are your final thoughts about bringing this all together and what you guys hope to see in the future, not just at HI Connect®, but with the concept in general? Paul?

Paul Cahill: I'll leave expectations to Laurie and the team, because they're going to be there hosting everybody brilliantly I'm sure. For us, I think this is just another step on our journey. This is one more proof point and one more reason to give our guests and certainly in this case, our most loyal guests the reason to believe that we're the best brand for them. And so that's why I'd sum up and say this is one example of one of the proof points that we're developing and deploying.

Glenn Haussman: Right. And I would say before you all jump into the HI Connect® portion of it, and that's really what makes a brand, a brand that has longevity. I could point to a lotta brands out there that were really popular, but then faded away because they were rigid, not flexible.

You guys have really come a long way, not like a sharp turn, but a constant, constant fine-tuning, which has brought you to this point, and I think that's gonna protect you guys in the future as you grow and now what you're doing with all the other brands that you've been scooping up. That's another conversation, again, for another day. Really keeps you guys sharp. But back M Lounge, HI Connect®, Mariah, you wanna finish up?

Morriah Mryszuk: I just think it's very exciting to bring the M Club Lounge to hotel interactive, to HI Connect®, because there aren't that many in practice currently and so giving it that sort of audience and attention is exciting for all of us.

Glenn Haussman: Excellent. Laurie?

Laurie Wolling: Well, I think in closing, what I'd like to say is a big shout-out and thank you to our design team. They've tirelessly worked on this. They have poured their heart and soul into this M Club Lounge. Not that that's an unusual effort for our team. We pour our heart and soul into every project that we do. And we certainly did that with Clif and his team. His ops team couldn't have been a better team to work with in that first M Club Lounge.

And we look to see this concept being elevated for the right properties in the right positioning in our hotels. And, also, with regard to the design, we want to continually stretch, continually push the edge of the envelope, and continually give that gold and platinum guest a wonderful design experience.

Glenn Haussman: Great. Kim? Final words?

Kim Riffle: I think I'd just like to say that it's exciting for us in procurement to see Marriott moving ahead. It always challenges us to do different things to work on different things. It challenges us with our owners and franchisees, how they get very excited about computing this into their hotels and so it's just been a wonderful experience. And I really look forward to the future and what the future brings after the M Club.

Glenn Haussman: Yeah. And it's gonna be great to see how you guys are continuing to innovate as you go along. And, Clif, let me give you a final thought as well. How do your guests like it?

Clif Clark: Well, I'll tell you, someone said the M Clubs not a one-size-fits-all concept for every hotel, but it was the right fit for my hotel. And all the stakeholders had a big win. Our best customers have this beautiful space, 24/7 food and beverage offerings, technology that works. For the ownership it was huge win because we're making them a lot of more money. And for the folks that work in there, our concierge, our hosts, it gives them the opportunity to spend much more time hosting and acting as concierge and less time running food and supplies back and forth to the top floor of the hotel to the lounge.

So when all three stakeholders have a win, it makes the general manager very happy.

Act now to be a part of this game changing event. For more information relating to this unique and dramatic experience at HI Connect®? experience March 25-27, 2015, visit our dedicated website to learn more. Register now for this unique event setting a new standard for hospitality tradeshows. Or call 631-424-7755 x150 for an immediate response.

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