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George Corbin, SVP of Digital at Marriott International

By Peter High, published on Forbes
5/15/17

There is a common misconception that Airbnb has disrupted the major hospitality companies in a comparable fashion to the disruption that Uber has wrought upon the taxi industry. In fact, last year was a record year for multiple of the major players. Marriott International earned $17 billion in revenue, and 30 percent of that was earned through digital channels according to the company’s senior vice president of Digital, George Corbin.

Corbin has been a digital leader at Marriott for nearly 15 years, which is to say longer than the term “digital” has been in vogue. As such, he has a lot to say about the so-called disadvantages of the digital immigrant companies relative to their digital native counterparts. Corbin notes that “different operating realities require different operating models and mindsets to enable both the core legacy business and the digital subsidiary to succeed.” Few companies have succeeded as Marriott has in this transformation.

Much of the innovation that has been the focus of Corbin’s recent efforts center around re-thinking the customer experience from searching for a hotel room, to booking, to the period before the stay, through and then after the stay itself. That customer journey is being re-thought with digital channels enhancing each step, as he describes in detail herein. Corbin also offers advice on what sets apart successful chief digital officers from their average to middling counterparts.

Peter High: George, can you describe your purview as the Senior Vice President of Digital at Marriott?

George Corbin: Digital has grown to be a major part of Marriott’s business. Our digital channels, Marriott.com and Marriott Mobile, now make up about 30 percent of the company’s gross revenue. This substantial growth represents a huge shift in the customer and how they buy, and in the business overall. Marriott.com, Marriott mobile, all aspects of the digital component of the customer booking experience, and the parts of a guest’s stay that digital powers, all fall under my umbrella.

High: Digital has grown to be a major part of Marriott’s business. Our digital channels, Marriott.com and Marriott Mobile, now make up about 30 percent of the company’s gross revenue. This substantial growth represents a huge shift in the customer and how they buy, and in the business overall. Marriott.com, Marriott mobile, all aspects of the digital component of the customer booking experience, and the parts of a guest’s stay that digital powers, all fall under my umbrella.

Corbin: We are. Last year our gross revenue via our digital channels, not third party, was over $13 billion gross. It is a material number. For comparison purposes, it is not far behind what Walmart.com does. It often surprises people to find out that we are a big player among consumer facing sites.

High: In our past conversations, I have found your thoughts about the challenges that incumbent companies face as they head toward digital intriguing. In particular, the idea that in some ways companies are operating two businesses in different places on the maturity, or S-curve. Whereas some of the rising digital native organizations only have to deal with the realities of being lower on the S-curve. Please describe some of these challenges and the ways that you have managed through them.

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