Marriott International has bowed to pressure from travel agents and removed a video commercial from its YouTube page that allegedly compares travel agents to “a creepy gas station attendant”.
The video is part of a big push by Marriott to persuade guests to book direct with the hotel chain, rather than through intermediaries like travel agents.
One of three commercials under the tag “#itpaystobookdirect,” the ad has now been set to private. It encouraged consumers to book directly with Marriott to earn benefits like free Wi-Fi and to “get the best rates.” Marriott thus saves on commission. The other two ads are still live on YouTube with the tag line: “You get the best rates on Marriott.com. It pays to book direct”.
The ads star YouTube personality Grace Helbig, focusing on her efforts to help solve peoples’ personal problems and encourage travellers to book direct.
According to Skift.com in the US, the most controversial video of the three, now no longer live, showed a couple of travellers “receiving sketchy advice from a creepy gas station attendant”.
Travel agents were up in arms, saying the dodgy service station character was a thinly veiled swipe at travel agents providing bad advice. The American Society of Travel Agents, the US equivalent of AFTA, stepped in and Marriott removed the video.
Skift quoted Carmen Perez, global director of travel industry sales for Marriott International, saying that Marriott hadn’t realised it was offensive to travel agents and adding that it was never meant to impute anything negative about agents.
It was “just meant to be playful”, Perez said.
Under pressure from “collaborative sharing” upstarts like Airbnb, hotel chains are more desperate than ever to push consumers into booking direct.
A current campaign by Hilton in the US runs: “When you plan a vacation at any one of Hilton’s 12 distinct brands you always get the lowest price only when you book direct at Hilton.com.”
Written by Peter Needham