Marriott teams with Alibaba to target Chinese tourists

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(Reuters) – Marriott International said it would partner with China’s Alibaba Group Holding to tap into the growing number of Chinese citizens who travel abroad.

The world’s biggest hotel chain said the joint venture with Alibaba would allow Chinese travellers to book rooms at Marriott hotels via Alibaba’s travel service platform, Fliggy.

Travellers will be able to sign up for Marriott’s rewards program and receive special member-only rates through Fliggy, Marriott’s global chief commercial officer, Stephanie Linnartz, said in an interview.

Alibaba will eventually run Marriott’s Chinese-language websites and apps, Linnartz said.

Tourists will be able to pay for bookings using the Chinese e-commerce company’s online payments platform, Alipay, the companies said.

The long-term market opportunity in China is huge for companies targeting both domestic and outbound Chinese travellers, according to Rich Hightower, an equity analyst with Evercore ISI.

Over the next five years, Chinese travellers will take an estimated 700 million trips, the companies said in a statement. Marriott’s focus with the joint venture is mostly outbound Chinese travellers, Linnartz said.

Marriott owns the JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and Autograph Collection hotel brands, among others. It has nearly 300 hotels in China and around 300 hotels in the pipeline. Twenty-two of its 30 brands have a presence in China.

China’s importance to Marriott was heightened after the company’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels, which had a larger presence in the country than Marriott, Linnartz said.

Shares of Marriott closed up 1.1% on Nasdaq on Monday but fell 1.8% after the close following the company’s release of second-quarter earnings.

Shares of Alibaba ended up 3.6% at $158.84 on Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Arunima Banerjee and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Sophia Kunthara in New York; Editing by Anna Driver and Leslie Adler)

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