On Monday Alibaba Group Holding and Marriott International unveiled a partnership to promote Marriott's travel brands on Alibaba's online platform. The companies plan to build a Marriott storefront on Alibaba's travel platform Fliggy, as well as link their loyalty programs. The project would also feature content, programs and promotions for Chinese travelers in Marriott hotels, according to a company press release.
Additionally, Alibaba’s mobile payment, Alipay, will be accepted at Marriott hotels in select global markets, expanding globally in the future, the companies said in the release.
The travel industry is an important growth opportunity in light of the estimated 700 million trips that China's travelers are expected to take over the next five years, the companies said.
Alibaba executives have projected bullish revenue growth — upward of 49% for the fiscal year — based on the strength of the company's core Chinese e-commerce business, healthy consumer spending in China and from the company's investments. But Alibaba is also working to expand the way it interacts with consumers beyond being a mere website where people buy products.
“This is a company that always invests for the longer term, for the future,” Alibaba Group CFO Maggie Wu said earlier this year, according to an account of the meeting detailed on the company’s blog.
That reflects the company's continuing faith in China’s growing middle class. While those consumers once headed to Alibaba’s marketplaces for basic household items and discounts, they’re now turning to them for higher end goods and demonstrating a willingness to pay more for them. And that includes travel, making this tie-up handy for both Alibaba and Marriott.
"We are proud to join forces with Marriott International — combining our large-scale consumer base, leading-edge technology and consumer insights with their unparalleled hospitality expertise," Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang said in a statement, adding that the companies aim to make travel "more seamless and personalized" for Chinese consumers.
The effort also fits with Alibaba's creation of an e-commerce infrastructure that is more social and interactive, beyond search or even shopping. Zhang told investors in June that the company has essentially grown into an economy unto itself, fueled by Chinese consumers’ comfort with interacting with retailers on mobile.
In that sense, Alibaba's presence at Marriott hotels worldwide serves as touchpoints for Chinese consumers when they're abroad. It's a broader and deeper hospitality approach than, say, West Elm's series of hotels, which serve more simply as showcases for the furniture and decor sold by the retailer.
For his part, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson said the hospitality company was looking forward to opportunities to be found in Alibaba's vast platform and deep data.