No one ever said launching the world’s largest hotel loyalty program was going to be easy. And it certainly hasn’t been for Marriott.
Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels back in 2016, forming the largest hotel company in the world with 30 brands and 6,500 properties in 127 countries. In August, the much-discussed (and maligned) merger of those companies’ respective rewards programs, as well as Ritz Carlton’s smaller program, finally happened.
Since the August merger, the program has endured IT snags, irate customers from the former Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, plenty of critical blog posts—oh, and the one of the largest data breaches of all time. To make matters worse, November’s hack primarily affected up to 383 million guests who checked in at Starwood hotels dating back to 2014—in other words, the very SPG-ers who felt jilted by the merger were the most likely to be affected.
Then in mid January, a new name for the combined loyalty program was announced: Marriott Bonvoy. (Get it? As in, “bon voyage” but with out the “-age.”)
Marriott has been fighting something of an uphill battle with Bonvoy. Though the product has not functionally changed since the August merger, the official mid-February launch of the Bonvoy brand identity hit prime time with an Oscars ad slot during the ceremony last Sunday (Feb. 24)—as well as two co-branded credit cards with a much-coveted 100,000-point sign-up bonus.
A few things are clear from this ad: Marriott Bonvoy offers its members preferred access to many glitzy properties in many countries across 30 hotel brands. Less clear is what “Bonvoy” actually means. Is it a greeting? An exclamation? A noun? A verb? A variety of tree?
Marriott’s global marketing office told Skift that the ad was about “people experiencing the joy of good travel and they have one word to describe it, and that one word is ‘Bonvoy.’ The more people hear that, the more they connect that idea of good travel to our portfolio and that program.”
OK. And of course it’s not uncommon for large companies to pay branding agencies top dollar to come up with made-up words (or, in this case, to lop three letters off an existing word). But this particular branding exercise doesn’t seem to have translated well. Former SPG-ers who saw the merger as a demotion of their status have said “Bonvoy” has not alleviated their angst.
Then there’s the timing of the new brand’s rollout. As the reliably snarky travel blogger Gary Leff noted, “I’m tempted to say something sassy like ‘rather than spending money sponsoring the Oscars, maybe they should work on their IT, informing people if they were hacked, etc.'” Quartz has reached out to Marriott for comment and will update this post if they respond.
After a slew of security missteps post-hack, it was only two weeks ago—roughly the same time as the official rollout—that Marriott gave customers a way to check whether their details, which include passport numbers, had been compromised. But to find out, customers are being asked to turn over their sensitive information once again, this time to a third-party security firm—something that members might understandably be loathe to do at this point.
“Bonvoy” may be here to stay—but so is the bad taste from the hospitality industry’s most controversial merger.