ASTA Criticizes Marriott's Free Wi-Fi Plan

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby
ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby

Following last week's announcement that Marriott would begin offering free Wi-Fi to members of its Marriott Rewards loyalty program who book through direct channels, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has weighed in with criticism that the move penalizes those who choose to book with travel agents.

In a statement to its members on Wednesday, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) announced that it had expressed concerns to Marriott executives about the new policy, which includes Marriott's luxury partner, The Ritz-Carlton, as well as the company's luxury hotel brands.

"Our message was clear: the policy discriminates against consumers who use travel agencies and is not likely to be well received by them," said ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby in the statement. "We explained our understanding that most travelers now expect Wi-Fi to be available when traveling. Marriot’s plan to offer free Wi-Fi as an inducement to travelers who book direct with a Marriot brand or through Marriott.com will disadvantage loyal travelers who use the travel agency distribution channel."

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Kerby pointed out that one potential workaround -- having agents book outside a GDS and directly through Marriott.com -- was inefficient and would make it more difficult for customers to rely on the travel agent for trip management after their trip is booked. 

"If a consumer learns, as they often will, at check-in or later, that they could have received free Wi-Fi if they had booked direct, travel agents will have no alternative but to explain that this discriminatory policy emanated from Marriott," said Kerby. "Agents do not understand why Marriott would put itself in this position with consumers. In the end, of course, Marriott is free to establish whatever policies it desires. This Wi-Fi policy seems inconsistent with t​he pro-travel agent posture that Marriott has followed in the past. Agents who object to Marriott’s plan should communicate their views directly to Marriott."

Under the new policy, Marriott Rewards members who book directly through Marriott.com, Marriott's mobile app, 1-800-MARRIOTT or through a Marriott hotel would receive free standard Wi-Fi, starting January 15, 2015. 

When Luxury Travel Advisor reached out to Travel Leaders Group for comment, the company responded that it is not issuing any public statement at this time since it is still currently in discussions with Marriott.

On the day of the initial announcement, Marriott told our sister publication, Travel Agent, on Twitter that more details would be shared closer to the start date of the program. 

We've reached out to Marriott regarding ASTA's statement and will post an update when we hear more. 

The new benefit will be available at Marriott Hotels, JW Marriott, Renaissance, Gaylord Hotels, Autograph Collection, AC Hotels by Marriott, and Marriott Executive Apartments, as well as Marriott Rewards' luxury partner, The Ritz-Carlton. Brands that already offer free Wi-Fi -- EDITION, Moxy, Courtyard, Fairfield Inn & Suites, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Marriott Vacation Club -- will not be affected. 

Additionally, Marriott Rewards members at the higher Platinum and Gold Elite tiers will continue to have access to free enhanced Wi-Fi, which offers faster download speeds and the ability to stream movies and other media, as an exclusive benefit (where available). Other members may upgrade to enhanced Wi-Fi for a fee.

How do you think the changes to Marriott's loyalty program will impact your business? Let us know at [email protected] or on our Facebook page.

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