Marriott Chain Adds Some Local Flavor

Renaissance Hotels goes native, using neighborhood tipsters to boost its online concierge service

Is Marriott’s Renaissance Hotels trying to be the next Yelp? To increase its social quotient, the hotel chain is letting locals participate in its Navigator program, Renaissance’s take on the hotel concierge. Tipsters who are so inclined can add their favorite haunts to the hotel’s online database of restaurants, services, stores and entertainment culled by hotel-trained ambassadors, who are called navigators.

Launched in May, the Navigator program aims to turn the concierge into a high-profile, social-savvy brand ambassador who gives a human face to each hotel property.

In October, the public was invited to post their local suggestions on Twitter and Instagram via #Rdiscovery. Hundreds of tips have been posted so far, and this month the company will begin running promotions inside the hotels themselves to encourage more participation. Navigators will highlight some alongside their own tips, said Dan Vinh, vp, global marketing. “We realize many people like to be in the know, and they want to share our soapbox to a global audience.”

Most other lifestyle hotel chains give only general listings about the local area on their sites and social media. But Marriott has learned that putting personal favorites from locals online makes the content easily sharable and spreads the brand’s message of discovery across social media.

“Initially, we picked navigators because they are really excited about their city and want to show it off,” said Amy Sherman, vp of digital. “Now we also want them to have a robust social media following.”

The Navigator program rolled out with a site redesign and the global digital and print ad campaign “Live Life to Discover” by Anomaly. Since then, traffic to the hotels’ websites increased 82 percent in the third quarter compared to the second quarter, Sherman said. From May to mid-December, the number of Facebook likes exploded from 40,000 to about 303,000 while Twitter followers swelled from 5,000 to 28,000, she said.

Each of the 155 hotels in the chain has a lead navigator who is stationed at an advice desk in the hotel lobby and shares local tips on the hotel’s website and social media channels. Online, there’s a photo and profile of the navigator alongside listings of his or her favorite local establishments and events.

At Renaissance Chicago Downtown, for instance, the navigator is Ikram Barakat, who was born in Morocco, raised in Paris and has lived in Chicago for about 15 years. For “kitschy coffee,” she recommends a cafe called Intelligentsia.

The most popular category for Navigator tips is food. “Our guests often want to discover things in the area, and they are interested in the point of view of a trusted discovery partner, who are the navigators,” said Vinh. “Subjective information is more important to them than comprehensive. We aren’t trying to replace Yelp or Zagat.”