When Marriott Hotels decided to put together a bourbon program that would appeal to their guests and fulfill their greatest expectations, they settled on creating one that focused on premium choices delivered with style and an eye for well-crafted details in a way that would lift perceptions and turn their bars into the gathering places of master distillers and blenders. They did so well that their bourbon program took home the 2016 VIBE Vista Award for Best Spirit Program among hotels, casinos and cruise lines.
Marriott selected Beam Suntory to provide on-property training and programs that included four specialty cocktails, two bourbon flight experiences, a bite-size pairing menu, bourbon knowledge and stories to share with guests, premium barware, and branded collateral.
In addition, Marriott created a consumer experience element as part of their Travel Brilliantly campaign, with consumers able to visit the Jim Beam Distillery and experience it as a VIP member of Marriott. Marriott also created their own Facebook page as well for The Masters of Craft, a place to share best practices as they created premium bourbon programs at various properties.
The strategy was simple: Leverage the existing relationship with Beam Suntory and associated brands (Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark, specifically) to create a program that drives traffic into the Marriott Greatroom during the pre-dinner time period while also supporting the broader objective of lifting and shifting perceptions of the Marriott brand among guests from Gen X and Y. Using Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek, two popular super-premium bourbons, they worked to reinforce the hotel chain’s authority with super premium whiskey and encourage re-discovery among connoisseurs. Whiskey ambassador visits, consumer events, bourbon dinners, pop-up bars and speakeasies, advisory mixologists, and visits from bourbon legends Fred Noe of Jim Beam and Rob Samuels of Maker’s were also part of the strategy. By late 2015, whiskey ambassadors visited more than 200 Marriott Hotels in the USA, and the program was extended to cover Marriott properties in Germany, Prague, Amsterdam, Brussels and the UK. More importantly, depletions grow at over 14 percent year to date, with an increase in social media activity of over 18 percent for Marriott and the Bourbon Program.