by Leo Jakobson | April 05, 2013
 Marriott International has announced plans to dissolve its Marriott Individual Incentives division and discontinue the Stay Awards gift certificates that were the heart of its business. 

Marriott was a groundbreaking leader in creating gift certificates specifically designed for the individual incentive market, creating the Stay Awards — which covered one or more night’s accommodations, taxes, and breakfast — more than 20 years ago. 

Stay Award certificates will continue to be sold through the end of the year. Marriott will continue to honor all outstanding Stay Award certificates on an ongoing basis, says Steven Maselko, vice president of planning and support for Marriott Global Incentives and Gift Cards. Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton brand is also discontinuing its Individual Incentive Awards Program and Travel Awards gift certificates.  The certificates were good for stays of one or more nights at company properties, and came in a variety of tiers. Higher tiers allowed access to more properties, and to suites instead of standard guest rooms. Versions of the certificates were also available specifically for different regions of the world. 

Marriott says it will continue to offer the dollar-denominated Marriott TravelCard and eTravelCard, incentive awards valid toward stays, dining, golf, spa, and gift shops that are available in amounts ranging from $25 up to $2,000. The Ritz-Carlton’s Gift Cards and e-gift cards will also continue to be available. 

While Marriott will no longer market or sell directly to the individual incentive market, it is not abandoning either the individual or group incentive market, Maselko says. “Marriott is still represented in those channels in a very big way,” he says. “We’re still in those points loyalty programs being redeemed through direct booking, and that’s not going to change in any way. Businesses and incentive companies can still buy our gift cards.”

And unlike Stay Award certificates, those gift cards are good at any Marriott property anywhere, while Stay Awards had a variety of tiers good for different room and suite levels, as well as certificates good only for specific regions. 

While there is a “conception that we’re stepping out of the industry, we’re not really,” Maselko adds. “There are some things happening to our product portfolio and the way we go to market. Our marketing strategy is to focus on the Internet and our hotels rather than a direct sales force — for individual incentives. Our group incentive business is not changing at all.”

To support the individual incentive gift card buyers, Marriott is working on changes that will allow it to sell more than $10,000 worth of gift cards per customer per day on its website, and expects them to be in place by the third quarter of this year, Maselko says. 

The reason for the change is simple, Maselko says. “Stay Awards have been becoming a smaller and smaller part of our business,” he notes. “Gift cards are very popular and the phenomenon of direct booking has really taken off in points-based loyalty programs. Internet technologies let you shop and book your hotel accommodations immediately. You don’t have to go out and get a piece of paper to find out how to make a reservation.”