Krister Svennson, Marriott International

Marriott International is sharpening its focus on luxury with the appointment of Krister Svensson as Multi Property Vice President, Luxury Hotels Australia and General Manager at W Melbourne.

In the newly created dual role, Svensson will take charge of operations at W Melbourne whilst also having oversight of all of Marriott’s luxury properties in Australia, including under the The Ritz-Carlton and W Hotel brands.

The appointment coincides with a focus on luxury expansion for Marriott, particularly in the Asia Pacific, a region that accounts for a third of Marriott International’s luxury hotels and over half of Marriott’s global pipeline.

Svensson spoke exclusively to HM about demand in the higher end of the market and his plans to take luxury to the next level.

How is the luxury hotel market evolving in Australia? What are guests demanding?

The meaning of luxury is changing, with travellers seeking truly authentic experiences that extend beyond their hotel room.

Luxury travellers are looking for stays with brands that align not only with their personalities but with their values, making it all the more important for us as hoteliers to reflect on our social responsibility initiatives and ensuring they align with the passions of our customers first and foremost. 

In a regional survey of affluent millennial and Gen Z travellers in the Asia Pacific, we found that brand affinity remains key with a third opting for destination inspired abodes under an established luxury brand. Our plethora of brands within the Marriott portfolio allows us to tailor the hotel experience for travellers to a more granular level so that no matter where they are looking to travel, they are able to find a Marriott hotel that will closely align with their needs and values.

Marriott conducted a survey in 2023 on affluent millennial and Gen Z travellers in the Asia Pacific region, who we can see are the tastemakers in this space, and it was clear that the majority believe once-in-a-lifetime experiences and “pinch-me” moments are what make the luxury travel experience. Nine in 10 actually prefer to explore a destination with assistance from their luxury hotel, rather than research themselves, so we see an opportunity to act as this expert connector for the next generation luxury traveller.

In what ways is Marriott taking luxury to the next level?

Marriott has been in the luxury and lifestyle hotel market for a long time. Marriott launched the world’s first ever lifestyle hotel with the conception of W New York in 1998 and is home to brands like Ritz-Carlton which has set the gold standard for hospitality globally, and St. Regis which enjoys an unparalleled legacy for luxury. I like to say that we are masters of luxury – we know the space so well and have the size, the reputation and the years of knowledge to understand how to maintain the legacy we’ve established.

Luxury hotels make up the bulk of our revenue, driving our highest profit margins, and as such are a key growth area for us. The Asia Pacific market in particular represents a focus region for luxury, housing a third of our global luxury hotels and accounting for half of our global luxury pipeline.

In Australia, we have now brought into market or announced signings for five of our luxury brands including The Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, JW Marriott, The Luxury Collection and St. Regis, slated to open on the Gold Coast in 2027. Our key focus will be on maintaining these core luxury hotels, rather than growing into new brands so that, through our excellent custodianship of our current brands, a Marriott Bonvoy traveller is able to experience a consistently high level of service and hospitality across any one of our luxury hotels.

How will you lean on your international experience to elevate the luxury experience at Marriott’s luxury hotels?

Delivering luxury service is all about personalising the guest experience, be it small or large gestures. We really focus our associate training on how to find out each of our guests’ preferences and build on that knowledge to create those surprise and delight moments that they come to expect from our luxury brands throughout their travels.

The luxury traveller of today is much younger and well-travelled and to this audience, luxury is also in the technology that ensures a seamless experience. The Marriott Bonvoy app allows members to express check-in and access their room, to being able to communicate their requests over direct hotel chat.  

Our luxury portfolio of hotels and resorts in ANZP are heavily focused on elevated dining and bold bar concepts, meeting the travellers desire for unique F&B experiences. From AM to PM, guests can start with breakfast and then dine in some of the country’s best restaurants and bars. Alongside investment in menu curation, the development of signature venue brands and bespoke high-end interiors has ensured that the venues become places of note in the city’s they reside in. Warabi at W Melbourne and Atria in The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne featuring on the Good Foods Award top honours.

What are you most excited about in this role?

I’m excited to be a part of the growth of Marriott luxury portfolio in Australia, which is rapidly expanding and presents exciting opportunities for the brand.

I’m also looking forward to being a part of the reinvention of W Melbourne particularly from a culinary point of view – which is a personal passion of mine. Melbourne, as the food capital of Australia, is a thriving epicentre for the newest and most refreshing takes on hospitality.

The four venues within W Melbourne – Warabi, Lollo, Curious and Culprit – are among some of the best in the have experienced and present enormous opportunity to set the pace for hospitality within the city, and I look forward to implementing robust culinary programming across our venues to drive this positioning. 

On a portfolio level, our food and beverage offering is also a focus that I look forward to driving. Our high-end restaurants and bars like Peppina, Atria, Cameo, Hearth, Songbird, Warabi, BTWN, The Lex, and Citrique help bring a coveted and robust offering to our hotels that draw in travellers and local diners alike, so continuing to build on this and our award-winning venues will be at the forefront.