Marriott Becomes World’s Largest Hotelier, Buying Starwood

NEW YORK (AP) -

Hotel behemoth Marriott International is becoming even larger, taking over rival chain Starwood in a $12.2 billion deal that will catapult it to become the world’s largest hotelier by a wide margin.

The stock-and-cash deal, if completed, will add 50 percent more rooms to Marriott’s portfolio and give it more unique, design-focused hotels that appeal to younger travelers.

The acquisition is likely to start another round of hotel mergers.

“This causes everybody in the business to look around and say, ‘We don’t want to be the smallest,’ ” said Bjorn Hanson, a professor at the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

The latest deal would leave Marriott with 5,500 properties and more than 1.1 million rooms around the world, uniting Starwood’s brands, which include Sheraton, Westin, W and St. Regis, with Marriott’s two dozen brands including Marriott’s Courtyard, Ritz-Carlton and Fairfield Inn.

The transaction is expected to close in the middle of 2016.

The next-largest hotel company is Hilton Worldwide, with 4,500 properties and about 735,000 rooms.

“To be successful in today’s marketplace, a wide distribution of brands and hotels across price points is critical,” Starwood CEO Adam Aron said on a call with Wall Street analysts. “It appeals to travelers wherever they may go, leverages marketing and technology spend(ing) and strengthens frequent traveler loyalty.”

Marriott and Starwood – like other hotel chains – own very few individual hotels. Instead, they manage or franchise their brands to hundreds of individual owners, often real-estate development companies. Those individual hotel owners are responsible for setting nightly room rates. It isn’t uncommon for a developer to own a Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton in the same city.

The merger will give Marriott 30 brands and more leverage with corporate travel departments who often look for one giant chain to house all of their employees. Frequent business travelers will also be closely watching the deal. Starwood has a frequent-guest program with partnerships with American Express, Delta Air Lines and Uber. Marriott has a much larger program with partnerships with Chase and United Airlines.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said he was attracted to Starwood, in part, because of its loyalty program. He said the members skew a little younger than Marriott’s and the program is “very valued by elite travelers.”

“We will take the best of both programs and make sure the bests are preserved,” he said on the analyst call. The details will be worked out in the coming months.

Marriott, based in Bethesda, Maryland, has been aggressively growing. In April, it acquired Canadian chain Delta Hotels and Resorts, helping it become the largest hotel company in Canada.

The boards of both companies approved the acquisition unanimously, which now must be approved by investors in both hotel chains.

Marriott’s Sorenson will be president and CEO of the combined company and the headquarters will be in Bethesda. Marriott’s board of directors following the closing will increase from 11 to 14 members, with the expected addition of three members from Starwood’s board.

Marriott said it expects to deliver at least $200 million in annual savings in the second full year after closing.

Last month, Starwood, based in Stamford, Conn., announced the sale of its timeshare unit to Interval Leisure Group, with its shareholders retaining a 55-percent stake in the company. That deal is expected to close before the Marriott acquisition, with Starwood shareholders receiving additional compensation for their stake in the timeshare business.