The news that Marriott International plans to double the number of its hotels in Europe in the next five years represents a remarkably ambitious programme of expansion.
Speaking in Berlin last week, Amy McPherson, president and managing director for Europe said that Marriott intended to double the 40,000 rooms it currently had open, reaching 80,000 rooms by 2015.
For business travellers already members of the Marriott Rewards programme, it's good news of course. The expansion of properties makes it more likely that there will be a Marriott-branded hotel close to where you want to travel. But for Marriott, the scale of its ambition can be judged by the fact that only 15% of the hotels necessary to achieve this are currently in the pipeline.
Marriott is pinning its hopes on the market opportunities it sees in Europe. It is an oft-observed fact that only 30% of the hotels in Europe are branded compared with 70% in the US. Perhaps more pertinently, in Europe only 1% of hotels are Marriott-branded, while in the States it is 9%.
Its new Autograph Collection will allow hotel owners to join Marriott and take advantages of its sales and marketing without losing the identity of the hotel, instead becoming an Autograph Collection Hotel in the same way that Starwood has its Luxury Collection.
This "conversion" brand offers hope to Marriott because it allows hotels to be added to its portfolio far more quickly than by building them from the ground up, and also makes Marriott attractive to hotel owners envious of its sales and marketing and worldwide distribution, but reluctant to become one of the traditional Marriott brands.
Marriott's chief operations officer for Europe, Reiner Sachau, emphasised that the expansion would be achieved in a number of ways: firstly, the "traditional" way of "one-off" hotels joining Marriott, secondly, by strategic partnerships with developers capable of multiple developments, by the Autograph Collection, and lastly by mergers and acquisitions.
The current mix of 85 to 15% franchise to management was likely to continue Mr Sachau said, pointing out that The Autograph Collection wasn't about the hotels all being of a similar rating, but was down to their unique qualities, and could encompass boutique, urban, suburban and even resort properties.
"We have brand standards for the Autograph properties," he said, "albeit more selectively defined. But it is more about integrating these hotels within Marriott rather than converting them," he said.
Other developments will include expanding the Courtyard by Marriott brand throughout Europe in secondary cities and in Eastern Europe. Amy McPherson pointed out that "more than 50% of our distribution is in markets which are also the biggest source markets for the US."