Middle East COO highlights Marriott International's regional and global growth with loyalty at its core
Marriott International's Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programme continues to grow, maintaining its position as the leading hotel loyalty programme in the world.
"Marriott Bonvoy members have exceeded more than 192 million globally, and updated figures are due to be released next week," confirmed Marriott chief operating officer, Middle East, Sandeep Walia (pictured).
Walia was speaking at a media briefing, held at W Dubai – Mina Seyahi this week, which outlined the consumer preferences and travel trends shaping Marriott's regional strategy, as well as key growth areas.
The Marriott Bonvoy membership boom speaks to consumer demand for value for money in travel bookings, one of the trends identified in a survey conducted on behalf of Marriott by Opinium.
Survey results showed that 34% of respondents from the UAE and 29% from Saudi intend to use loyalty programme currency to pay for some or all of their holidays in future. Furthermore, 32% of UAE and Saudi travellers will try to save money by going on more domestic holidays.
Other trends identified in the survey include visiting 'dupe destinations', tech-disconnected 'slow travel', solo travel and AI trip-planning.
Visiting 'Dupe Destinations' that offer sought-after activities closer to the GCC – such as the vineyard tours of Northern Spain rather than South Africa or surfing in Portugal instead of Hawaii – will be a key theme shaping travellers' choices in 2024. Around one third of respondents from the UAE and Saudi are intending to save time and money by visiting a ‘dupe destination’.
'Slow holidays' – in which mobile phones and computers are banished – are also becoming increasingly popular. Four in five travellers from the UAE and Saudi say they've already been on a ‘slow holiday', while 82% from the UAE and 80% from Saudi say they plan to go on a 'slow holiday' in the next three years.
Solo holidays have been had by around 70% of travellers from the UAE and Saudi in the past three years and will continue to be a significant trend, with around the same number planning to take a solo holiday again in the future.
Around 50% of travellers have used AI to help them plan or research a holiday, and 77% say they are likely to use AI in future, showing the trend is set to grow further still. Among those who did use AI, 95% say it influenced their holiday decision in some way. This included booking recommended accommodation (36% in UAE and 39% in Saudi), booking recommended activities (39% in UAE and 31% in Saudi), and booking recommended restaurants (34% in UAE and 35% in Saudi).
Walia pointed out that sustainability is no longer seen as a trend, but rather a standard way of operating. Regional consumer demand for sustainable travel options is also more prevalent. More than eight in 10 travellers from the UAE (83%) and a similar number from Saudi (78%) now say they would pay 20 to 21% more for environmentally friendly accommodation, and most believe accommodation providers have a responsibility to support the local communities where they operate.
In 2023, one of Marriott International's sustainability initiatives included planting thousands of mangroves in Abu Dhabi. "Mangroves store four times more carbon than trees," said Walia, "And we're going to continue our journey planting mangroves. We're moving towards 24,000. We started up the journey again in Ajman in January 2024, and next we're moving on to Dubai and Fujairah."
Another sustainability win for the group was the launch of the St Regis Red Sea Resort in Saudi in January this year, with the property operating on 100% renewable energy.