LAS VEGAS—Hong Kong is expected to see more travelers than any other city in the world in 2020, despite protests between democratic activists and supporters of mainland Chinese rule that have affected businesses in the international city.
Peggy Fang Roe, a 16-year veteran of Marriott, has spent the last six years overseeing sales and marketing in Asia and the Pacific for the world’s largest hotel brand, and logged her first day as the company’s new global officer of experience, loyalty and new ventures at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Adweek sat down with Roe at the annual tech confab about her experience working in Hong Kong, her new role and Marriott’s strategy for experiences.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Congrats on the new role! How is it different than your old one?
When I was chief sales and marketing for Asia Pacific, I was the front end of the business, the brand’s marketing and strategy. We went through an integration [merging with Starwood Hotels] during that period that was unexpected.
The new role is brand new—I’ll be creating it. It focuses on innovation, our data strategy, loyalty and new ventures, which is our new products and services we want to provide as an extension of becoming more of a travel company, not just a hotel. It’s all under development, but there are some products we have started to introduce, like Marriott Homes and Villas, and tours and experiences.
“Experiences” is the buzzword in travel. Is this a rewiring of how consumers think about travel, or is it a trend that’ll fade?
It’s two things. It’s shifting towards, “I’d rather have these experiences that I can talk about and post on social media.” It’s materialism. We’re in an age where we’re trying to reduce things we own. These memories are things that we’re going to carry.
Also, I think travel is becoming easier and more popular. It’s what consumers are looking for. If you think about the way we sell, people are more inspired by imagery, stories. Before, everything was transactional. You booked the flight and the hotel. Now, travelers just think about what they want to do.
What’s it been like leading a global hospitality brand in Hong Kong over the last year?
It’s a pretty resilient city. These most recent protests have been really hard on the city and on its reputation globally, but I think our hotels have fared pretty well because we have a global customer base. Some people just have to come to Hong Kong, and when they do they trust staying with us.
For the travel industry, it’s pretty tough. Recently in the last six months, our hotels have focused more on local staycations, and they’re seeing a lot of success with that because people want to get out of their home and go somewhere.
It only took one tweet to jeopardize the NBA’s relationship in China. How do international brands walk the fine line without involving themselves in geopolitical controversy?
We do business in 134 countries and territories, and we follow the rules of those countries. Most of our owners are owners from those countries. We just try to operate as locally as possible, and that goes for what we say in our marketing and the rules we follow. It’s a very localized business even though we’re a global country.
How does Marriott balance matching customers’ soaring expectations of their hotel experience with respecting their privacy?
We have customers call us and say, ‘Well, why didn’t you know the last room I stayed in?’
We don’t actually necessarily have all that information, and we only keep what travelers allow us to keep. So it is a careful balance.
My mission in this new role is to put that data in the customer’s hands. If travelers can control their own preferences, then I can deliver on the surface of what they tell me. It sounds super easy, but it is actually really difficult to execute.
What do you get out of coming to an event like CES?
For us, because our industry is a 24-hour operation and it attracts all types of people with all kinds of interests, we look at these conferences for inspiration. It can be something completely outside of our field. It could be in the medical field.
Yesterday, I was looking at a watch that would tell you what kind of makeup you should wear because of the weather. Innovation triggers other ways of thinking about how we can deliver service to our hotel. I like to stretch my brain in that way.