Marriott's Wi-Fi Plan: Ensemble's Libbie Rice Weighs In

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
Ensemble co-president Libbie Rice
Ensemble co-president Libbie Rice

Ensemble Travel Group co-president Libbie Rice has weighed in on Marriott's plan to offer free Wi-Fi to members of its Marriott Rewards loyalty program who book through direct channels, including at its luxury brands and luxury partner, Ritz-Carlton. In a recent phone interview with Luxury Travel Advisor, Rice criticized the company's decision to leave out other booking channels. 

"Obviously Marriott can do what they like to do, in terms of giving an additional benefit to their most valuable guests for being part of their program," Rice said. "The disconnect is only doing it in direct bookings."

Marriott has a huge footprint in terms of the number of properties and brands this policy will affect, Rice pointed out, and this decision could hit corporate and business travelers who have to book through a travel agent particularly hard. 

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"I think they're doing a disservice to business travelers in not supporting the GDS," said Rice. 

When asked about the response from Ensemble's owner community, Rice said, "Our members are not happy about it, and [Marriott] will feel the repercussions on that. We have certainly shared our thoughts with Marriott."

Travel Advisors Respond

Since the announcement of the new plan we have received largely negative feedback from travel agents. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has released a statement criticizing the plan, and other agents have emailed us with their own concerns about the situation. 

"As a Marriott rewards member I received an email with their new policy and their guarantee of receiving the lowest rate for my booking," said Nina Boshes of Travel Emporium, Inc. "That certainly bypasses travel agents, unlike other suppliers who suggest the public use a travel agent. Shame on Marriott."

Pat Kelly of Boomerang Travel was also unhappy with the decision. 

"Once again a vendor who claims to be loyal to agents and who is not," Kelly said. "They want us to take extensive tests on Marriott to be familiar with their product but yet they want to cut us out of the picture first chance they get. Everyone always feels they can eliminate the travel agent, but ask the other vendors who came crawling back how that worked for them."

The new Wi-Fi 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.

Keep visiting www.luxurytraveladvisor.com for further updates to this developing story. 

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