CNBCfix review: CNBC
should’ve had reservations
about Marriott ‘Hotel’ profile

          Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012

The bottom line is that hotels just aren't very interesting.

CNBC's hourlong documentary "Hotel: Behind Closed Doors at Marriott," hosted by Scott Wapner, feels like an invitation in search of a story, a production of flat visuals and endless corporate talking points uncertain even where to start.

Unlike the most appealing CNBC corporate documentaries, such as those on McDonald's and Costco (both hosted by Carl Quintanilla), the "Hotel" crew seems to quickly discover it has little to show. Depicting service surely isn't easy. Most of the visuals here involve empty rooms, people sitting in lobbies and doormen collecting bags. Even the guts of the business are boring — tables of food, piles of laundry.

"Hotel" unearths virtually nothing about a hotel's propensity to make money. It's not nearly as blunt as "Cruise Inc.," a fine 2009 documentary about a cruise ship by former correspondent Peter Greenberg that was still airing on CNBC the week of the "Hotel" premiere. Greenberg stressed with a high level of emphasis that profitability of a cruise tends to come down to occupancy and alcohol; the assortment of shopping-mall-like attractions constitute little more than gravy. Wapner on the other hand would almost have you believe nearly all the perks (such as room service) delivered by Marriott are at break-even or a loss, except for the biggie — alcohol, for which Wapner is too modest to reveal Marriott's markup, so he casually mentions the industrywide average of 500%. (Translation: The best customers are the drinkers.)

Wapner doesn't even bother to break down a typical guest's bill. Do those room refrigerators full of soda, beer and Snickers rain cash? Do people pay for spa or Internet services? Viewers would appreciate knowing the going rate for tipping, especially for the $11.93-an-hour-plus-benefits housekeeping crews, who tell Wapner it tends to be hit or miss. (There's also no mention of whether Marriott offers adult pay-per-view TV, likely too embarrassing for this portrayal.)

In an obvious message to the frugal viewer, Marriott's revenue-management chief David Roberts tells Wapner that a Marriott desk clerk won't negotiate a $300 room down to $200 on the spot (he calls it a "fade") with a bargain-hunting traveler. (If you want to believe him, that is your prerogative.)

This conversation presents potentially the greatest pearl of wisdom of the broadcast — the "secret" to "the best time to get the best rate." But Wapner — assuming he was expecting an honest answer in the first place — botches this important question with ambiguity: Either he's asking about the cheapest day of the week in general, or the best time to make the booking (presumably as far in advance as possible, although that seems not necessarily certain). Roberts apparently assumed the former and answered, "Book on a Sunday night. To arrive on a Sunday night, and leave on a Monday morning, we love that." Which 1) doesn't specify whether by "we love that" this type of booking is lucrative for Marriott (and thus pricey for the consumer, in contrast to the question) or whether Marriott is so desperate for 1-night guests on Sundays that it's offering deals, and 2) doesn't exactly help the traveler who's arriving Monday, or any other day of the week. A mess of a dialogue. Writers and editors asleep at the switch here.

The first 10 minutes of a cable TV production are almost always the most important. "Hotel," the work of CNBC "Halftime Report" host Wapner, senior executive producer Mitch Weitzner, senior producer Wally Griffith and producer Deborah Camiel, opts to begin with cloudy skies and people waiting for bad weather. Crews are securing the New Orleans Marriott as a small amount of rain falls on the empty streets. Most of the employees are gone and there are virtually no guests. Natural disasters are "part of the game" of operating a hotel, Wapner explains; Mother Nature can wipe out a week.

Wapner explains that his crew inexplicably actually "visited the New Orleans Marriott twice," during Hurricane Isaac and "then on a more typical day." That "typical" day, which presumably might've been scheduled the weekend of some large convention(s), neatly provided a bookend, as Wapner (in one of the few references at all to money but in a strangely multicolored and hard-to-read graphic) explains the gross profit for the 24-hour period as $222,000. (Translation: It's a profitable enterprise, despite the occasional hurricanes.)

Presumably Marriott chieftain Bill Marriott Jr. would be a good get, venerable corporate titan who lets Wapner tag along in his luxury cars. But the biographical sketch painted by "Hotel" is skimpy at best, a token nod to Marriott's ancestors and numerous references to how tough a businessman he is. Either he didn't have much to say or Wapner didn't ask enough questions. Too much time is given to Marriott associate/rival Laurence Geller, who evidently is making peace with Bill Jr. after a frosty lawsuit over things only lawyers care about.

Wapner got neither Bill Marriott's sons nor any other Marriott family members on camera to opine about the company elevation of Arne Sorenson, nor are any Wall Street analysts or travel writers asked to evaluate the company, unlike in Wapner's appealing documentary "The Coffee Addiction." Hotels are a very mature industry where the battles are for tiny slices of market share; while identifying the competition, at no point does Wapner provide objective assessments of Marriott's reputation. Macro-business analysis is limited to Mumbai where, not surprisingly, Marriott is deemed to have an excellent business model.

Sensing he has little in the way of controversy here, Wapner asks Sorenson if a string of lawsuits represent a discouraging Marriott trend, yet provides no details as to what exactly these people are suing over (apparently bureaucratic partnership issues of little if any relevance to the consumer).

Wapner's enthusiasm for this project could be considered average. His approach is professional but little here seems to light him up (David Roberts, a Cornell grad, presumably is the one behind the Narby Krimsnatch reference). Wapner takes the company's service claims at face value and seems to endorse execs' unconvincing assertions that the Ritz-Carlton "passion" and "desire" is indeed a cut above other 5-star hotels. Dubious footage of staffers pledging aloud a credo that they are there to serve the customer is followed by Wapner's equally dubious conclusion: "Drinking the corporate Kool-aid? Maybe. But consider that no less an icon than Steve Jobs looked to Ritz-Carlton when developing Apple's retail stores."

In Wapner's worst fawning moment, he says, "It may sound like so much PR nonsense, but we watched scores of Ritz employees and came to realize, they actually mean it."

9 minutes are devoted to India, presumably to justify the time and expense of sending a crew there. This is the only hotel market Wapner describes in detail, apparently concerned that timely assessments of occupancy rates in key U.S. markets would inhibit the program's long-term suitability. It really only requires a couple minutes, if that, to convey that the India hotel space is successful and growing and carries a security premium. Wapner pretends that it's remarkable that a Bethesda, Md., company would operate here in Mumbai, then assures viewers the water and automobiles at the JW are safe.

The program is probably most useful to hotel industry pros who might be interested in some of the scant customer statistics Marriott felt obliged to divulge to Wapner, such as the percentage of males using in-room hair dryers (20%). Wapner could've been an advocate here for the frequent Marriott customer, such as Brent Birchler, determining what a customer gets for "Platinum" certification and what such a designation is worth.

It's unfortunate that Wapner is not philosophical. He does not observe that the hotel business unlike most industries seems largely unaffected by technological progress of the last few decades and never asks anyone in this program if reducing headcount or other costs seems possible. If anything, it seems an industry in which constantly more staff is required, not less.

Perhaps the most telling comment is that the typical Marriott customer is a "Baby Boomer on an expense account." So most, or many, of Marriott's guests are actually not individually paying for the privilege. This draws parallels with bigger-picture issues such as Medicare and people's expectations toward a product that they are not themselves paying for out-of-pocket and suggests that a weary traveler opening the wallet on a vacation is overpaying for value a corporate client takes for granted. Wapner finds that one weekend in New Orleans, the room rates ranged from $319 to $109 but provides no context as to how much of that $319 was covered by a corporate account or how much may have been "comped."

If you've ever stayed in a hotel in your life, there is very little "Behind Closed Doors at Marriott" to surprise you. In fact, the doors are wide open, and there's not much of a story. Given the high-level access and complimentary tone, this production was almost certainly Marriott's offer. Some invitations are best declined.

"Hotel: Behind Closed Doors at Marriott" (2012)
Featuring: Robert Bray, Mark Quitney, Brent Birchler, Bill Marriott Jr., Arne Sorenson, Laurence Geller, Drew Shepard, Stephan Chase, David Roberts, Rajiv Menen, Manjeet Kripalani, Rajeev Chopra, Javier Cano, Kelly Steward, Gary Padilla, Costantino Delli, Patricia Garcia

Reporter: Scott Wapner
Senior executive producer: Mitch Weitzner
Senior producer: Wally Griffith
Producer: Deborah Camiel
Editors: Richard Korn, Kelly Laudien, Allison Stedman
Associate Producer: Michael Beyman
Camera: David Grogan, LeRoy Jackson, Raul Marin, Marco Mastrorilli, Gerard Miller, Robert Pearson
Audio: Jonathan Berguno, Michael Bidese, Rob Maerz, Brian Peterson, Juan Rocha, David Schumacher, Tony Stewart, Hans Van Den Bold
Additional camera: Francios Bisson, Plummer Crawley, David Gelder, William Irmscher, Afshin Javadi, Dmitry Solovyov, Mike Vaughn, Jason Zhou
India Unit
Associate producer: Shruti Rajkumar
Camera: Maulshri Singh
Audio: Atirek Pandey
Manager and chief photographer: Angel Perez
Director of post production: Vito Tattoli
Global creative director: Victoria Todis
Senior designer/animator: Jacqueline Dessel
Senior designer: Nick O'Connor
Animator: Peter Kourkoumelis
Coordinating producer: Christie Gripenburg
Production manager: Tracy Lawrence
Media coordinator: Richard Marko
Music librarians: Lauren Ricci-Horn, Salvatore Carosone
Interns: Vera Bennett, Patrick Cotnoir, Michele Herman
Additional material: Marriott International
Special thanks: NBC News Foreign Desk, NBC News Cairo and Islamabad bureaus, CNBC-TV18 India
Senior vice president, long form programming: Ray Borelli

Back to CNBCfix home

CNBCfix home

CNBCfix review:
‘Coffee’ is cup
of capitalism

CNBCfix review:
‘Facebook Obsession’ is not about privacy

CNBCfix review:
‘Marijuana USA’
for recreational
purposes only

CNBCfix review:
Regan the star
of ‘Marijuana Inc.’

CNBCfix review:
Under Fire’

CNBCfix review:
Carl Quintanilla’s
‘Trash Inc.’

CNBCfix review:
Dry water in
‘Liquid Assets’

CNBCfix review:
Maria Bartiromo’s
‘Inside Google’

CNBCfix review:
Carl Quintanilla’s

CNBCfix review:
Scott Wapner’s

CNBCfix review:
David Faber’s
‘House of Cards’

CNBCfix review:
Regan the star
of ‘Marijuana Inc.’

CNBCfix review:
Coke doc doesn’t
feel like a classic

CNBCfix review:
‘Untold Wealth’ a
bit soft for Faber

CNBCfix review:
‘Oprah Effect’
is missing Oprah

CNBCfix review:
Rovell gets lapped
in ‘NASCAR Inc.’

CNBCfix review:
Rovell makes the
sale in ‘As Seen’

CNBCfix review:
Faber’s Wal-Mart
needs 33% discount

Fast Money review

FM Viewers Guide

Why we don’t
review Mad Money

Movie review:
‘Wall Street’

Masterful Gordon Gekko

CNBC/cable TV
star bios

♦ Jim Cramer
♦ Dylan Ratigan
♦ Charles Gasparino
♦ Maria Bartiromo
♦ Lawrence Kudlow
♦ Michelle Caruso-Cabrera
♦ Jane Wells
♦ Erin Burnett
♦ David Faber
♦ Karen Finerman
♦ Guy Adami
♦ Jeff Macke
♦ Pete Najarian
♦ Jon Najarian
♦ Tim Seymour
♦ Becky Quick
♦ Joe Kernen
♦ John Harwood
♦ Steve Liesman
♦ Margaret Brennan
♦ Bertha Coombs
♦ Mary Thompson
♦ Trish Regan
♦ Melissa Francis
♦ Rebecca Jarvis
♦ Darren Rovell
♦ Carl Quintanilla
♦ Diana Olick
♦ Anderson Cooper
♦ Neil Cavuto
♦ Monica Crowley
♦ Bill O'Reilly
♦ Rachel Maddow
♦ Susie Gharib
♦ Jane Skinner
♦ Kimberly Guilfoyle
♦ Martha MacCallum
♦ Courtney Friel
♦ Uma Pemmaraju
♦ Joe Scarborough
♦ Terry Keenan
♦ Chrystia Freeland
♦ Christine Romans

CNBC guest bios

♦ Bill Gross
♦ Dennis Gartman
♦ Diane Swonk
♦ Meredith Whitney
♦ Richard X. Bove
♦ Arthur Laffer
♦ Jared Bernstein
♦ Doug Kass
♦ David Malpass
♦ Donald Luskin
♦ Herb Greenberg
♦ Robert Reich
♦ Steve Moore
♦ Vince Farrell
♦ Joe LaVorgna
♦ A. Gary Shilling
♦ Joe Battipaglia
♦ Addison Armstrong
♦ Jack Bouroudjian
♦ Stefan Abrams
♦ Warren Buffett