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From root beer to virtual reality: VR is unproven, but that’s why Marriott has harnessed it

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Although Marriott today has a formidable presence with venues around the world, the 1927-launched business started with a very humble beginning. In fact, it was a franchised root beer shop initially, owned by J. Willard Marriott and wife Alice.

The pair had a brainwave and added hot food to the menu, which marked an instant success as it was the first shop of its kind to do so, thus the name Hot Shoppes was born.

A year later and two more Hot Shoppes had been created, then scale gradually became so vast that the brand started shipping products to airlines, before eventually going public.

However, 1957 brought about a change for the company and the origins of the one we know today, as the Marriotts moved into the hotel business, with son Bill in the driving seat.

Suffice it to say, the foundation of the Marriott empire is laced in entrepreneurial culture.

Seemingly it’s that very same culture that has allowed the firm to scale to 4,200 hotels in 80 territories, driving its 2014 revenue to $14bn.

Of course, Marriott is still about providing guests a comfortable stay today, but the firm is putting a lot of its efforts into technology to help staff to get the job done.

The latest development saw the company launch virtual reality in its Park Lane hotel, a facility dubbed as VRoom Service. It’s launched in partnership with Samsung, which has provided its Samsung Gear VR headsets as a vessel for the experience.

Real Business attended the demo at the hotel in the capital and spoke with Karen Olivares, Marriott’s senior director of brand marketing, and the woman responsible for overseeing the launch.

Read more on virtual reality and business:

“Our biggest tech advances come from mobile phones and delivering services through the devices,” she detailed, underscoring the company’s focus to innovate – not unlike the company’s founders did in the beginning.

App services include the means to check-in and check-out via mobile, while the requests feature lets guests ask for anything from towels, extra pillows and more in just a few taps or their smartphone. Keyless entry is another area of focus.

Elsewhere, the firm has partnered with digital entertainment companies like Netflix and YouTube in the US, allowing customers to carry their content subscriptions with them and stream directly from TVs in the room without incurring any charges.

“We’re trying to use anything electronic in the room to make a more enhanced experience for the guest, ”said Olivares.

So where does VR fit in?

The mutually beneficial deal, which will generate exposure for Samsung’s Gear VR devices while enriching the stays of Marriott guests, provides travellers with the means to view content on an app dubbed Postcards.

Interestingly, the Postcards app itself was made by none other than British creative agency Framestore – which we interviewed this year. It marks the second time the Marriott worked with the company, with the first tie-up a year ago in late 2014. 

The development resulted in a booth being fixed into the lobbies of selected hotels to simulate two experiences: standing on a Hawaiian beach, complete with beating sun (heat lamp) or the windy (fan) view from atop a London skyscraper.

Olivares said: “At first blush, people wonder, ‘why VR and Marriott? They have nothing to do with each other’. But if you stop and think about it, there is quite a bit in common. Hotel brands are in the business of offering their guests sensory experiences, and different brands offer different experiences based on property and positioning. VR is all about an enhanced experienced.

“We thought that there’s got to be a VR experience that a hotel brand can offer and so we found a lot of common ground in doing that. It’s taken a while to get us to where we are and the content we’re offering now. This tech moves so quickly that, in the one year I’ve been working on VR, things have changed dramatically.”

Continue reading on the next page to discover why it was so important for Marriott to get into the VR market early, and why the tech is “an open field”.

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