My Marriott Moments: Lessons on Event Experiences

Expert advice on how to create a special guest experience at every event

Meetings are all about experiences—and no matter the event purpose, every planner wants to be able to offer guests fresh opportunities and perspectives to expand their horizons.

One way Marriott is helping their guests do just that: Marriott Moments, a program that invites people to experience cities and countries around the world in a different, once-in-a-lifetime way. Offering tours and excursions along with member-exclusive opportunities to meet and spend time with celebrities, Marriott Moments gives guests the chance to personalize travels and create their own adventure. 

Meetings Imagined talked to Lisa Swearingen, vice president of global operations innovation at Marriott, about how planners can develop similar experiences for meeting attendees.

Can you talk about how offering special experiences is important to enhancing the guest experience?

What we’re learning today is that people think about travel as a full experience: It’s the hotel stay, the meeting they attend, the place they have dinner and any other activities they’ve done that create the overall experience. We know that guests more and more are spending more money on experiences instead of things. As we are thinking about what our guests are interested in, we really feel like there’s an opportunity to offer them tours, activities, excursions—something unique that will make their trip more memorable. 

What is the ideation process like in developing new guest experiences? 

The process for identifying experiences starts with really trying to understand who guests are and what is most compelling to them. 

For Marriott Moments, we look at how we can meet the needs of a particular target customer. For member-exclusive experiences, which try to offer a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else, we build partnerships with corporations like the NFL or individuals like musician Colbie Caillat to provide that. 

We also offer traditional tours and activities, which might be available on other sites, but what makes our site unique is we also offer additional hotel experiences that can be purchased by both members or nonmembers. This might be a picnic for two on the beach, where we prepare a basket and a place for you somewhere on our beach. We also do cooking classes, sake tastings, basketball skills training—a lot of these things are unique to our hotels, but you don’t have to actually be a guest there to partake in those experiences. Marriott Moments offers a broad range of experiences—close to 100,000 experiences in 800 destinations—all aimed at appealing to guests with varying interests.

Are there any lessons you’ve learned or advice you could give to planners who are trying to create unique experiences?

I think some of the things that we learned is that we had to use all parts of the hotel. For example, it’s one thing to have a 10-course meal in the dining room. But when you take it and you move it out to outside by the beach, it has a totally different feel. So, think about other spaces within the hotel that could somehow turn something ordinary into extraordinary. 

Another big learning is flexibility. Giving guests choices and options is important because everyone is different. One way we do this during our sake tasting experience is by giving people the choice of where they want to do it: They can do it at our private dining area within our sushi bar, in their rooms or outside on the patio—we’re happy to do any of those. That might be a little hard for some meeting planners, but as we think about how the world is changing, more and more, the meeting attendee is going to want to be able to personalize and customize their experience in a way that they hadn’t been able to in the past. Because I think that’s going to go beyond, “Do you want beef, chicken or fish?” At the end of the day, guests are experiencing personalization in other parts of their life and will carry that expectation through to the meetings they attend. Planners are going to have to get much more creative and flexible in how they deliver that kind of personalization.