CHARLOTTE, NC—From the moment hotel guests check-in at Charlotte Marriott City Center’s M Beta, an “idea incubator” located here in the city’s business district (an area also known as Uptown), they will be taking part in a bold experiment to test new products and service concepts.
The project aims to help shape and inform future hotel stays at this property and Marriott Hotels around the world. Among the ideas being brought to life are digital, on-demand fitness; communal F&B experiences; collaborative, flexible meeting spaces; and innovative guestroom designs featuring spa-style baths and adaptable seating options.
Much like a beta test that computer programmers would conduct as the last stage of testing prior to the release of a new product, the Charlotte Marriott City Center is examining these new features before its opening. The idea for a live beta hotel went all the way to the top, with Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson green-lighting the idea and getting involved in the early working sessions, according to Matthew Carroll, VP of global brand management, Marriott Hotels.
“We really thought about what we wanted to do at this hotel and bring game changing ideas to life. He’s been on that journey. It’s part of a larger transformation story for the Marriot Hotels brand,” said Carroll. “We’ve been focused on evolving guestroom design to guest experience to how we train associates, and the Charlotte Marriott City Center’s M Beta is a way to bring all those ideas in one location and push our thinking a few steps further to continue to innovate and evolve the brand experience.”
For real innovation to occur, there must be frequent experimentation, a building of strengths and a connection to resources, and these key elements are being sourced right here.
“There are a few reasons why we chose Charlotte. The local community was a big driver, entrepreneurialism and a thriving business environment, a fast-growing market and the new hotel made this the ideal testing ground,” said Carroll. “It provided a great environment to bring our ideas, such as how to engage the local community, how we can reposition, as well as fully renovate a hotel and transform it.”
Everywhere you look there are opportunities for data collection and for guests to have an ongoing dialogue with the brand. They simply press a Beta button to give a proverbial thumbs up to an area or innovation they like on the property. The feedback is aggregated on the brand’s website or on a screen at the property, showing how many people pushed the Beta button for a particular area.
“In guestrooms, we learned from over 6,000 data points what they’re looking for in a guestroom. We brought the input to Charlotte, took it steps further and we’re moving very quickly,” he said. “There are certain areas of the hotel where we already have an understanding of what guests want. For other areas of the hotel, it’s the first time we’ve ever done it. For example, the coffee shop and co-working spaces. It’s a great draw for the local community and we’re going to learn from that and see if we want to implement it at other hotels and how it could roll out in other properties down the road.”
Public spaces are activated and more open than ever before, with a new F&B experience showcasing an immersive wood-fired kitchen concept.
“They’ve done a neat job there, bringing that local story to the hotel by hiring local culinarians who know the city well, are well-known and are there to make their mark in partnership with us,” he said. “The menu is even more hyperlocal and there will be global influences and certainly a lot of focus on sourcing local providers and partnering with local talent.”
Adding another layer to the experience are Marriott Hotels’ trained associates who are ready to elicit feedback from guests. They think of these conversations in a different way because they’re in an innovation hotel and it’s another way to gather comments.
Elsewhere, a new fitness center features on-demand workouts for individual or group settings and a staff member is positioned in the space at peak times to help guests understand how to use the technology and glean any feedback.
The brand also has partnered with LG Electronics to create a residential-style kitchen environment central to the hotel’s meeting spaces.
“It really allows us to be much more nimble as a brand and to have a stronger ability to introduce new programs at other hotels in our system. It’s about collaboration and co-creating with our guests and getting that feedback and be much more dynamic,” he said. “It’s what is expected of hotels today. It’s our first innovation hotel and it won’t be our last. It’s a mindset that we have adopted as a brand and will continue to embrace.”