Marriott’s purchase of Starwood overcame a bid from a Chinese company with a $14.4 billion offer, with Marriott citing the Starwood Preferred Guest asset as the main reason for the buyout.
Don’t believe a word of it. While that database may have value, the real reason for the purchase is that Starwood became the first US hotel chain to be allowed entry into Cuba with its Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis brands.
An untapped market with, for now, exclusive entry? No wonder China’s Anbang offered $14.15 billion. What’s not to like?
Cuba, visited today by President Barack Obama, is a unique carrot to put in front of investors. It is the forbidden fruit, after decades of being an embargoed island nation for the US. Whatever your stance is on opening ourselves to it, the island nation represents a unique and enticing culture says unique food, music and history.
Once the doors are open, commercial interests are sure to sprint in like it’s Black Friday.
To be sure, Cuba tourism won’t be quite on par with the rule of Batista in the 50s when American companies basically ran the nation before Fidel Castro staged a successful revolution.
But Cuba still holds that kind of allure for many. It’s feels exotic and new, which is why Starwood was so desired by companies across the world.
To be sure, eventually, there will be others that will be allowed to set up shop in Cuba, even it takes years or decades. What Marriott has now is the first-to-market advantage that could be easily blown if Marriott doesn’t forge ahead in a meaningful manner.
Turning the Cuba advantage into preference.
It will surely get the financial bump it was looking for when it initially promotes the allure of Cuba, but there’s a chance to do so much more.
Too often, destination marketing is all about the destination and what it offers. That sounds like a fine strategy until you consider that it means, when others enter the market, the messages will soon become blurred among all the competitors. All can claim the destination. In that scenario, Marriott will eventually lose its first-to-market advantage.
No, Marriott needs to figure out how the Cuba visitor is defined. Are they adventurous? Are they always on the lookout for something new? Are they something else?
Marriott will need to answer those questions and build its Cuban tourism brand on that, not the destination itself. It’s tempting, of course, to make it all about Cuba because it’s so new to US tourists.
But that strategy will not work long term. Define the traveler, and the first-to-market advantage will grow into preference.